G20: Connecting the dots on global health innovation, sustainable development, and health security
On April 28, senior leaders from government, the private sector, and the global health community came together in Berlin for a lively discuss on
how the G20 can advance global health innovation to drive sustainable development and health security.
Here are six key takeaways from that discussion:
1. Global health security can drive economic growth, but health crises destroy economies.
While the cost of developing technologies may be significant, the cost of failing to have technologies needed on hand can be far greater. For example, US funding cuts in 2012 stalled development of a promising Ebola vaccine, leaving us without a critical tool needed to stem the 2014 outbreak. The result: Over 11,000 deaths and the collapse of health systems and economies in the three affected West African countries, as well as enormous investment by G20 countries to stem the outbreak. The US government alone spent US$2.4 billion on efforts to combat the disease at its source, in addition to investments at home.
On the other hand, investment in global health research and development (R&D) can drive economic growth and job creation. Healthier people lead to healthier economies.
2. Resource mobilization is critical.
If there is one message the eclectic group of conference participants can all could agree on, it is that we need additional investment from public- and private-funders to ensure global health security. What was less clear is who will pay for it.
Speakers emphasized the vital role governments have to play in funding R&D for poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs) given there isn’t sufficient stand-alone interest from the private industry. German Bundestag member, Stephan Albani, encouraged governments to double their investments in R&D for PRNDs and to continue funding product development partnerships (PDPs), which leverage public- and private-sector contributions to advance health technologies targeting PRDNDs.
Other panelists stressed the need to draw in additional support from the private-sector, philanthropy, and other unconventional donors. Tara Hayward from Sabin Vaccine Institute emphasized the need for alternative financing models to stretch investments, while Dr. Kei Katsuno from GHIT Fund discussed his organization’s unique approach to leveraging private and public funds. Katharina Kuss, from the Spanish Foundation for International Cooperation, Health, and Social Affairs, also reminded participants of the need to focus on value-for-money to avoid donor fatigue and continue to engage the private-sector and philanthropy.
3. No one can do this alone; Partnerships are needed.
Participants emphasized the need for partnerships in both funding and research. PATH’s Claire Wingfield discussed the unique role of PDPs in drawing together public and private resources and engaging local partners to develop affordable and appropriate technologies for PRNDs, as well as the need to foster an enabling environment for innovation in low- and middle-income countries as they strengthen R&D capacity to address their own health needs. Dr. Peter Jackson from the AMR Centre and Founding Member of CARB-X emphasized the length and high cost of drug development and thus the need for collaboration to bring new antibiotics to market. CEPI’s new CEO, Dr. Richard Hatchett, stressed the need for portfolio partnerships rather than companies working on developing a single vaccine.
On the private industry side of our community, Dr. Denis Broun of CEPLA spoke of partnerships with generic companies working on new drug formulations, while Dr. Harald Nusser of Novartis focused on the need for co-creation through multiple partnerships which are less transactional. Professor Helen Rees, Chairperson of the South African Medicines Control Council, raised the issue of medicine affordability for countries as an example of the need for mechanisms of tiered pricing and noted the need for collaboration to ensure tech transfer.
4. We must connect R&D with the overall health system.
A new global health technology will only have impact if ultimately reaches the people who need it and is designed for the communities and contexts in which it will be used. Silvia Ferazzi from Medicines for Malaria Venture emphasized that R&D must be viewed as part of broader health systems with product developers and implementers coordinating throughout the R&D process to ensure technologies can be rapidly scaled up at the community level once developed. She also stressed the need for technologies to be designed and adapted to meet the unique constraints of health systems. The need for communities to be engaged at an early stage to inform product design was echoed by both Abdullah Adlahmash of King-Saud University and Dr. Michelle Gayer of International Rescue Committee, while Julie Archer of FIND stressed the need to innovate diagnostics in parallel with drugs and vaccines to enable these tools to be deployed most effectively.
5. Governments DO care, but better coordination is required.
Many of the government and multilateral officials in attendance—including German Bundestag member Kordula Schulz-Asche, United Kingdom member of parliament, Jeremy Lefory, and Emanuel Frederico Sotelo from the Embassy of Argentina—highlighted the remarkable gains in global health achieved through new technologies and the stressed their commitment to driving forward global health innovation and strengthening health systems to address longstanding and emerging challenges, including antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and pandemic threats.
But attendees also pointed out the need for governments to better coordinate to support new technologies on the journey from lab to bedside. Rob Terry of the World Health Organization (WHO) R&D observatory, discussed his team’s work to create a directory of product profiles to identify priorities and gaps in R&D. Bernhard Schnittger from the European Union (EU) Commission in Germany, stressed the need for alignment between Africa and Europe—in areas of disease surveillance and response, pandemic preparedness, regulatory issues, and capacity building—which H.E. Ajay Bramdeo, AU Permanent Representative to the EU, also reiterated. Ben Alsdurf from TB Alliance focused on the need for streamlined regulatory processes and better coordinated procurement. Discussing the alignment between G20 initiatives and WHO, German B20 Sherpa Dr. Stormy-Annika Mildner noted that the G20 in health can’t divert from the WHO role, but it should set an agenda to streamline initiatives with WHO, and cited five areas where global health is a focus within the G20: Innovation in health, pandemic preparedness, NTDs, AMR, and digital health.
6. These global health challenges impact us all.
Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, perhaps summed it up best when he shared some surprising new statistics indicating that the majority of cases of certain neglected diseases—including HIV and AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis—currently exist within the G20 countries, so this is an area which countries of all economic levels cannot afford to ignore. On a positive note, the Millennium Development Goals helped catalyze a 50-80 percent reduction in preventable child diseases. On a more concerning note, new challenges have emerged: Dengue has returned to Southern Europe and malaria cases are on the rise in Greece.
Call to action!
It’s clear that neglected diseases can no longer be seen as a distant concern only affecting the global south. In this increasingly globalized world where diseases know no borders and our security and economies are intertwined, the leading countries of the world must come together with a coordinated approach to ensuring global health security.
That’s why we are calling on all interested parties to sign on to our call to action for G20 leaders to commit investment in research, innovation, and development of innovative health technologies to counter threats posed by AMR, PRNDs, and pandemics. We are working to include global health innovation on the agenda for the B20 meeting, and continue to engage in dialogue with representatives from Argentina and India, the next two G20 hosts and national ministers and heads of government. Join us!