March 18, 2013

Panel stresses partnerships and long-term support for successful global health research

Communications Officer

“I can’t think of a reason why academic scientists should not engage in global health research,” Dr. Dennis Kyle, distinguished university health professor at the University of South Florida, said last week at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) annual conference. Kyle was speaking at a panel hosted by the GHTC, which focused on current fiscal and policy realities in the United States that will impact global health research and development (R&D) in the coming year and beyond.

Kyle and other panelists stressed the importance of partnerships across a range of sectors to advance global health R&D and develop promising new global health tools. “Academic partners can be incredibly successful in product development,” Kyle said, adding that the university scientists are “great sources of innovation.”

Dr. Dennis Schmatz—board chair and president of Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) North America—echoed that product development partnerships like MMV rely on collaborations with universities and other sectors, such as governments, pharmaceutical companies, and philanthropic donors. “Product development partnerships are a powerful model that brings together academia, the pharmaceutical industry, and many other sectors to focus on a single mission: developing lifesaving new health products,” he said. As an example of how successful such partnerships can be, Schmatz cited that to date, MMV has helped register or prequalify four new malaria medicines, with seven promising new treatments currently in development.

The panel also focused on how sequestration and budget cuts could impact their work in global health R&D. “We know that the academic community has so much to offer,” Dr. Ticora Jones, Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) manager at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said. She added that USAID is “moving forward, building partnerships in spite of sequestration. USAID wholeheartedly supports harnessing science and technology to solve development challenges.” Jones cited HESN—which aims to create hubs for innovation at US colleges and universities—as an example of how USAID will continue to build partnerships for global health and other development issues. She also stressed that USAID frequently collaborates with other US federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and NASA, on international development challenges.

Karen Goraleski, executive director of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, emphasized that sequestration and other budget cuts have forever changed how global health researchers should advocate for continued support for their work. In addition to the humanitarian and lifesaving benefits of global health R&D, Goraleski stressed that researchers should discuss the domestic benefits of US government support, such as job creation and diplomacy. “Research is a good bet, and will always be a good bet, for creating jobs at home and forging diplomatic ties abroad,” she said, adding, “Researchers and scientists often develop long-lasting and hugely beneficial relationships with universities and communities overseas.”

Kyle also argued that global health research creates economic benefits for US universities and state academic institutions. For instance, the Kyle Lab at the University of South Florida provides jobs for 90 people at the university. “Those are real dollars and real jobs,” he said. Kyle added that US support for global health research helps train the next generation of health scientists. If US support for global health R&D is severely cut due to sequestration, “we’d lose the next generation of scientists. We can’t just train these people and then have it turn into a situation where there’s no avenue for them to continue their work,” he said.

Finally, all panelists highlighted that investments in global health research and product development are needed over the long-term, given the timeframe needed to create successful new products. “Innovation takes time,” Schmatz said, adding, “We need to keep vigilant, as new threats like drug resistance always create the need for new and better products. You can’t stop or you’ll lose all the ground you’ve gained.”