Jennifer Chow, Director of Global Health R&D and Public Health Advocacy for Research!America


A matchmaker service that saves lives

Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of discoveries in the field of global health research and development. There have been new vaccines to fight pneumonia, diarrhea, and meningitis – all major killers in the developing world. There have been breakthroughs in drugs against AIDS, and new tools developed so that doctors can identify a TB case in less than two hours, compared to weeks as was the case before. But the global health R&D renaissance isn’t happening due to happenstance. Odd bedfellows are coming together in a kind of modern matchmaking service whose aim is to save lives.

These brand-new arrangements are called PDPs for short, or Product Development Partnerships. Several groups, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have been putting together incentive packages that include some up front money, technical assistance, and the powerful selling point that such deals have huge impacts on the health of the poorest of the poor. These PDPs are also leading the way in smart, efficient partnerships in a time of extreme economic constraint. They are combining resources from lab and research capacity to drug marketing expertise in order to successfully bring a global health product to market. We are seeing biotech and pharmaceutical company product developers working with university researchers and inventors on a wide array of new discoveries. One example: the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) took a discovery on a TB test out of a New Jersey university lab, brought it to a Californian company, added some seed money, negotiated down the price of the machine, and successfully made the case for World Health Organization approval. The machine has transformed TB testing and detection and now is being used in countries such as the tiny kingdom of Lesotho in Southern Africa to diagnose people with drug-resistant TB, put them on treatment, and help many of them become well again.

Another example of a simple solution with a big impact is a dime-size sticker that changes colour to let health workers know if a vaccine is safe for use after exposure to less-than-ideal temperatures, a concern especially in developing countries. Originally created for use on eggs and other perishable foods in the U.S. and western markets, New Jersey-based Temptime found a market in vaccine vial monitors (VVMs). They capitalised on the PDP model, partnering with Seattle-based PATH and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and thus far have guaranteed the safety of more than 3 billion doses of vaccine from polio and measles to yellow fever. It is estimated that use of VVMs over a 10-year period could help to avert 140,000 deaths globally and save the global health community U.S $50 million.

Research!America is working in many U.S. states to effectively make the case that our nation’s involvement in global health research and development and innovative research financing arrangements like PDPs is not only the right thing to do, but also has tremendous economic impact in these states. Our polling consistently shows broad support among Americans on the importance of funding global health R&D. Now, the advent of PDPs illustrates that there are new avenues to produce life-saving benefits around the world and boost our economy at home.