How New Funding Models Tackle Challenges in the Development of Innovative Treatments for Neglected Tropical Diseases

During the past ten years, we have witnessed significant achievements in the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). As of 2020, 42 countries, territories, and areas had eliminated at least one NTD. Additionally, innovative financing mechanisms for research and development (R&D) in NTDs have emerged, including the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership and the RIGHT Fund, to attract the necessary funding to maintain progress towards elimination of neglected diseases.

Despite these achievements, funding challenges persist, and NTDs continue to have serious consequences for millions of people. The COVID-19 pandemic also had a negative impact on funding, according to the Policy Cures Research G-FINDER survey. R&D funding for NTDs dropped by 4% in 2020 compared to 2019, and clinical development funding for NTDs fell by US $124 million in 2020, a drop of 10% from 2019, mainly due to difficulties of conducting trials during lockdowns and travel restrictions.

A 2015 analysis by Philipsborn et al. found that poverty-related diseases represent 14% of the global burden of disease, yet only attract 1.3% of global R&D expenditure. Long-term underfunding has prompted the development of alternative approaches to financing, which include:

  • Push incentives that provide funding to R&D projects in advance, such as grants containing affordability clauses.
  • Pull incentives that offer rewards achievements in the R&D process, such as tax credits, cash prizes and advance market commitments.
  • Pooling mechanisms, which facilitate knowledge and technology transfer, shortening timelines and reducing development costs.
  • Public–private partnerships that provide funding to bridge research gaps.

By subsidizing the costs of R&D through the above-listed mechanisms, the costs of R&D can be delinked from the price of the medical product.

In 2011, WIPO Re:Search united the scientific expertise of academic, non-profit, and government researchers with the R&D experience of multinational pharmaceutical companies to drive innovation in medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics for NTDs, malaria, and tuberculosis. Companies participating in WIPO Re:Search agreed to grant royalty-free licenses for R&D and manufacture for the sole purpose of addressing public health needs for NTDs in least-developed countries.

Over eleven years, WIPO Re:Search facilitated more than 150 research collaborations, ten of which achieved key product development milestones (e.g. positive “hits” or activity against pathogens or drug targets of interest).

Another innovative alternative financing model is the recently announced investment by GSK of £1 billion (Pound Sterling) over the next ten years towards R&D, with an emphasis on NTDs and antimicrobial resistance. The company has set up a Global Health Unit composed of R&D Hubs. The Hubs will focus on 30 potential new vaccines and medicines, targeting 13 infectious diseases that account for more than 60% of the burden of disease in low-income countries. This model measures success by health impact alone, rather than financial return on investment.

WIPO welcomes innovative funding models that address disease areas with a significant global health burden but for which there is little prospect of a commercial return on investment.

About WIPO Re:Search

WIPO Re:Search is a global public-private partnership administered by WIPO and BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH) that supports early-stage research and development (R&D) to accelerate the discovery of new technologies to fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), malaria, and tuberculosis and drive progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.