Policy & Global Development

How to Fix a Broken R&D Model?

The Science for Patients project organises a workshop in Madrid with experts from different fields to debate on a new model of pharmaceutical innovation

Challenges and opportunities to fix an R&D model that does not work. This was the central theme of a workshop that brought together experts from different disciplines on June 13 in Madrid, with the aim of finding ways to foster a more transparent and responsible model of pharmaceutical innovation.  The project Science for Patients is funded by the  Open Society Foundations and led by ISGlobal, an institution supported by “la Caixa”.

The development and access to medicines that respond to the population’s needs is key to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3 (health and well-being for all). However, the current model of pharmaceutical innovation is clearly not responding to this need. The solution requires the engagement of different stakeholders, including the public and private sectors, civil society and the scientific community. “In the first phase of the project, we focused on the voice of the scientific community, an important stakeholder but not frequently listened to,” explains the project coordinator, Eva Martich. “Now we are widening to other actors along the development stages of a drug, from research to marketing.”

Work on priorities, prices and transparency  

Claudia Vaca, from the National University of Colombia, opened the debate highlighthing the “five inconvenient truths” of the current biomedical innovation model: access is inequitable, it neglects poverty-related diseases, there is a divorce between value and prize, the real R&D costs are unknown, and it does not respond to health priorities. She presented the results of an analysis performed with her country’s government, with the involvement of the scientific community.

Joan Bigorra, director of Strategy and Innovation at ISGlobal, highlighted the importance of incentives to promote a change in industry behaviour. The participants agreed on the public sector’s role in establishing such incentives, and in aligning them with the health priorities. An example of success is fexinidazole, the first oral treatment for sleeping sickness, where resources from different global donors were pooled and the pharmaceutical industry was involved. The debate also centered on how to achieve greater transparency throughout the whole process, from funding and reporting of clinical trials, to medicine approval, or price negotiations, and some positive initiatives were cited, such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the UK.

“We have planned a second workshop in September, to draw the main conclusions of this analysis and debate exercise,” explains Martich. “After that, our objective is to reach different national and international stakeholders and promote an innovation model that puts science to the service of patients,” she adds.