May 03, 2015

Research Roundup: leadership at USAID, investments in global health research at US universities, and measuring the impact of open innovation

Senior Program Assistant

United States President Barack Obama announced last week his intent to nominate Gayle Smith, senior director for Development and Democracy at the National Security Council, to lead the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Since joining the National Security Council in 2009, Smith has led the Obama administration’s global health work, including the Global Health Initiative and the Global Health Security Agenda. Ambassador Alfonso Lenhardt, deputy director of USAID has served as the acting director since Rajiv Shah stepped down from the post in February.

The Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM)—a global network of students from more than 100 universities in 20 countries—released its second annual University Report Card: Global Equity & Biomedical Research, which evaluates leading US universities on their commitment to neglected disease research. The universities are ranked on innovation, which is measured by investments in neglected disease research; access, or efforts to license new products to ensure affordability and use; and empowerment, which relates to global health education at the university. Johns Hopkins University tops the list, receiving an A- overall, and is followed by Emory University, University of Washington, Harvard University, and University of California San Francisco.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently brought together nearly 100 representatives from foundations and governments to discuss the impact of Grand Challenges—calls for open innovation in which funding is offered to the best idea(s). The meeting focused on the difficulty of measuring the impact of Grand Challenges, and participants identified key barriers to evaluating and marketing the process. As failure is an inevitable but worthwhile part of innovation, participants have faced difficulties in “selling” Grand Challenges (i.e., to policymakers or donors). Additionally, the complexity and length of the pathway from research and development to utilization of a product makes it hard to pinpoint the exact impact of a Grand Challenge, and while short-term milestones can be assessed, it can take years or even decades before basic research is translated into a lifesaving product.