February 09, 2012

US Government launches new initiatives to spur innovation for global development

Policy and Advocacy Officer

Ashley Bennett, senior policy associate at the GHTC, writes about the new programs announced at a White House event on Wednesday to promote innovation in global development.

Earlier this week, senior Obama Administration officials announced several exciting new programs to support and highlight the power of innovation in global development, including global health research and development (R&D) for new products.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah announced a partnership, entitled the Higher Education Solutions Network, designed to promote new solutions to global development obstacles. The partnership will create hubs for innovation at US colleges and universities to “create and leverage a virtual network of leading experts who will help USAID solve distinct global development challenges” through ramped up engagement with students and faculty.

Next, Dr. David Kappos, director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), unveiled the Patents for Humanity pilot prize competition through Patent applicants whose product benefits “humanitarian needs”—including medical technologies—will be eligible to win a certificate good for expedited patent review for an additional product that they would like to submit. The program operates in a fashion somewhat similar to the Priority Review Voucher program at the Food and Drug Administration. An important distinction, though, is that for the USPTO pilot program, the certificates are non-transferrable. This program should help private businesses pursue product R&D for areas of need that they may not necessarily find commercially attractive, which may have applications for global health diseases that predominantly affect populations in developing countries.

“By harnessing the power of science and technology with research and development, Patents for Humanity plays a key role in advancing President Obama’s global development agenda. By collaborating with parts of the world in ways unimaginable just a few years ago, and by unleashing broader prosperity in emerging economies, this important new USPTO initiative demonstrates that the power to innovate is the power to lead, by design, and by solution,” Kappos wrote in a blot post about the program.

Finally, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a new model licensing agreement to accelerate licenses for nonprofit organizations that are engaged in neglected tropical disease (NTD) product development to use certain inventions and compounds from NIH and the FDA laboratories. The scope of the program includes vaccines, drugs, therapeutics, and diagnostics for NTDs as defined by the World Health Organization. The wealth of technology available from these sources has the potential to drastically impact global health product development by expanding the material resources scientists need for their studies. During the launch event, the story of MenAfriVac™, a product developed by GHTC member PATH, was used to demonstrate the power technology transfer has on research for neglected diseases.

“We‘d like to see more of those transactions occur and more non-profits take up our technologies to bring them to the people that most need them in low-income areas of the world,” said Mark Rohrbaugh, director of the NIH Office of Technology Transfer.

In addition to these initiatives for global health research and development, new programs for mobile technology, clean energy, and hybrid seed production were also announced. All of these new programs align with the Administrations overall global development policy, including President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) for development, as well as with the innovation theme outlined in the recent State of the Union address. “A core part of my global development strategy is harnessing the creativity and innovation of all sectors of our society to make progress that none of us can achieve alone,” President Obama said.

President Obama is right. Using the power of innovation from all partners—from the US agencies to academic institutions, not-for-profit groups, and the private sector—can have significant impacts on longstanding global health and development challenges. It’s critical that US policymakers continue this spirit of innovation.

You can find more information on this White House fact sheet and also on the Science Speaks blog.

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