April 11, 2012

New York global health community comes together to discuss innovative partnerships in R&D

Global Health R&D Advocacy Intern

Research!America, a GHTC member, recently hosted an event on global health research and development (R&D) in New York. In this guest post, Mandy Goldberg, MPH, shares highlights from the event.

Research!America, in partnership with the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative North America (DNDi), Global Alliance for TB Drug Development (TB Alliance), International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and Treatment Action Group (TAG), hosted a forum, Global Health Research and Development in New York: Fueling Innovation and Saving Lives, on Monday, April 9, at the New York Academy of Sciences.

Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, opened the forum by acknowledging the remarkable progress made in the growing field of global health research in New York in the past decade. She also released the results of a new state poll commissioned by Research!America that shows that 64 percent of New Yorkers are concerned about global health, and 63 percent believe that global health research is important to New York’s economy.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY-18) then took the stage and explained the significance of global health R&D as an economic driver that creates jobs for New Yorkers. She stated that “despite the critical importance and significant economic impact of these programs, funding for global health is threatened again this year” in regard to the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget, and pledged to continue fighting for “robust funding for all our global health programs, including critical research and development.”

Renowned global health commentator Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, moderated a discussion between panelists Rachel Cohen, regional executive director, DNDi North America; Jack DeHovitz, MD, MPH, distinguished service professor and director, SUNY Downstate AIDS International Training and Research Program; Margaret McGlynn, president and CEO, IAVI; Mel Spigelman, MD, president and CEO, TB Alliance; and Pol Vandenbroucke, MD, vice president of development, emerging markets, Pfizer.

In her opening remarks, Garrett emphasized the importance of the US commitment to global health funding, especially after the 2008 financial crisis, when “the United States stepped up to the plate” after the community saw “a huge number of players disappear” from the field. She stated that “if we cannot protect the US commitment to global heath spending, every single program in global health is going to have to chop, chop, chop its budget.”

Laurie Garrett moderated a panel including Mel Spigelman, Pol Vanderbroucke, Rachel Cohen, Margaret McGlynn, and Jack DeHovitz.

Panelists then discussed how innovative partnerships among public, private, and academic sectors are transforming the way that research is conducted and yielding promising developments for the future of global health. Spigelman highlighted that the TB Alliance is “on the verge” of technological breakthroughs, which require an increased commitment to research due to the costly final stages of testing and clinical trials. Partnerships in global health R&D are cost-effective, he argued, citing the TB Alliance’s NC-002 clinical trial conducted in partnership with the US Agency for International Development, Bayer, and Novartis. This trial has the potential to produce a drug regimen that could reduce the TB treatment to 4 months, potentially saving as much as 90 percent of current costs.

Vandenbroucke emphasized that the private sector has unique resources and capabilities to contribute to partnerships that are essential for the development of health technologies. He stated that cuts to the federal budget would affect the work of the pharmaceutical industry “in the long term, as less funds are available to do the basic groundwork to study diseases” that Pfizer then applies during its advanced drug development process.

Cohen expressed concern over the fact that neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) received the single largest percentage funding cut of the global health programs in the President’s FY 2013 budget request and the impact this would have on DNDi’s work. She noted that there is currently no federal funding available for late-stage product development for NTDs, and the current FY 2013 budget request “totally eviscerates the possibility of future investments, at least for the coming 2 years,” if passed, which threatens the continued progress of DNDi’s efforts.

McGlynn spoke about the evolution of IAVI from an advocacy organization to a product development partnership, with the support of Mayor Bloomberg and New York City. IAVI’s Vaccine Design and Development Laboratory, established in Brooklyn in 2006, plays a pivotal role in the Mayor’s New York City Bioscience Initiative and is a key component of IAVI’s global AIDS vaccine R&D network. McGlynn stressed that the scientific expertise of New York City’s “globally educated and raised” workforce has been essential to IAVI’s work, and to the growth of global health R&D in the area.

DeHovitz reinforced that multisectoral collaborations have yielded major advancements in the field of HIV/AIDS. He cited the federal contribution to international HIV/AIDS through the work of the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health, which funds advanced research training in public health at five New York City universities. He also spoke of “the huge upsurge of interest among our health care students in global health,” stating that 45 percent of medical school entrants are interested in global health and 30 percent of medical school graduates have had a global health experience in school. “They’re committed, they’re interested and they want to help,” he said, noting the potential impact of this group to the future of global health.

New York—home to seven of the top 50 US research universities, the largest bioscience workforce and second-largest life sciences workforce of any US city, and three global health product development partnerships (PDPs)—is clearly a world leader in global health R&D, and this growing industry is a promising economic engine for the state. There was a general consensus in the room that the community needs to work together to ensure that global health R&D remains a priority.

Great progress has been made in the development of new technologies to fight TB, HIV/AIDS, and NTDs, and increased funding is needed to sustain this momentum and build upon previous successes. Spigelman noted that the current “slash and burn” Congress could have a devastating effect on global health efforts, and argued that the US will get “the most bang for that buck” by investing in global health technologies that will reduce the foreign aid budget in the long term. Woolley concluded the forum with a call to action, asking the global health community to share with others, including their members of Congress, the importance of the work that they do.

A video of the event is available here. For more information on global health R&D in New York, check out the New York edition of Research!America’s economic impact state fact sheet and public opinion poll series.