Investment in global health research: new strategy could increase EU’s impact

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Brussels, March 14, 2015: New research published today suggests that, despite significant progress and increased funding, obstacles remain in the way of the European Union taking full advantage of global health research investment. EU investment in the next generation of health technologies to fight HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, and other poverty-related and neglected diseases can have an even greater impact if these regulatory and policy issues are overcome.

Investing for Impact in R&D for Poverty-Related and Neglected Diseases

“Investing for Impact in R&D for Poverty-Related and Neglected Diseases: Assessing the European Union’s funding schemes” was co-authored by SEEK Development and Policy Cures and commissioned by Aeras, DNDi, DSW, Global Health Advocates France, Health Action International (HAI), Medicines for Malaria Venture, PATH, RESULTS UK and TB Alliance. The report concludes that the EU has indeed strengthened its instruments and policies to respond to these topics. However, the impact of EU funding could have been greater had the EU taken into account the distinctive characteristics of diseases of poverty and tailored its research programmes accordingly.

“The money we spend now on research could save millions of lives in the future, so we need to make every cent count. The EU has shown that it can play a leading role in this field, and that its instruments can deliver and help address outbreaks like Zika and Ebola. But these also have shown that we cannot afford to wait for emergency situation and tackle global health in a holistic and strategic manner.” said Cecile Vernant, Head of EU Advocacy for DSW (Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung), at the launch of the report.

R&D strategy urgently needed

In particular, the report identifies a number of issues that have hampered EU funding:

  • Access and affordability – EU funding rules have no mandatory requirements relating to issues of the access, affordability and suitability of the data produced as a result of its funding. If the research produced through EU funding is not accessible, it makes the challenge of reaching the people in greatest need more difficult.
  • Late-stage trials – Support for candidates to transition from one mechanism to another should be stronger. Bridge funding should be provided at all stages from basic and early-stage research, up to and including late-stage clinical trials.
  • Conflicting aims – Tension exists between the promotion of global health and recognition of need for new medical tools, with the aim of EU’s research and innovation framework focus on European economic competitiveness and growth. The EU should ensure that instruments give clear priority to the promotion of global health and that an approach centred on public health needs-driven research and innovation is not undermined.
  • Restrictive eligibility – The requirements attached to disease research are overly restrictive, and limit the number of organisations that could support the best projects, particularly in late-stage and translational research. These requirements should be relaxed.

If the EU is serious about delivering new diagnostic tools, vaccines and treatments, the authors of the report recommend that the European Commission develops a comprehensive strategy for global health R&D funding for poverty-related and neglected diseases. Such a strategy would improve the alignment of EU instruments with global health needs, streamline, simplify and relax the requirements for funding applicants and cover the full product cycle.

The state of EU funding for neglected diseases

“The EU is an important funder of RD for poverty-related and neglected diseases but it needs to change its approach. It funds R&D for poverty-related and neglected diseases in much the same way as it funds R&D for other diseases and places a strong focus on early-stage development. This may be suitable for diseases with commercial markets yet it is problematic for R&D on poverty-related and neglected diseases. Funding schemes should support product development beyond basic research and require the resulting products to be affordable and accessible for low-income countries,” says Sabine Campe from SEEK Development.

Notes To Editor:

The European Union is the third largest public funder of neglected disease R&D accounting for 3.7% of global public financing from 2007-2014. The majority of EU funding is delivered through three funding mechanisms: Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation (FP)/Framework Programme health-related calls for proposals; the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP); and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).