WHO R&D ‘Demonstration Projects’: A Member State-driven step towards a sustainable global framework for neglected disease R&D

Jean-François AlesandriniJean-François Alesandrini, Fundraising & Advocacy Director
[November 2013]

WHO Member States and experts, after weeks of consultations, are in the process of selecting ‘demonstration projects’ to address the unmet medical needs of developing countries. The overall objective of this process is to evaluate and assess new innovative mechanisms to coordinate and fund public health research and development (R&D).

Through WHO regional consultations, each of the WHO regions select up to four projects. From 3 to 5 December 2013, the selected projects will be presented and discussed during a technical meeting organized by the WHO with Member States and selected experts. Of the approximately 24 projects expected to be presented (four per WHO region), it is likely that three projects of regional scope and three that are global in scope should be selected. A report will then be prepared for discussion during the 134th WHO Executive Board (EB) meeting from 20 to 25 January 2014, before being presented at the 67th World Health Assembly in May 2014, for discussion and possible endorsement.

DNDi and partners submitted two projects with support of several partners and countries: one for Chagas disease (‘R&D Accelerator initiative: A coordination mechanism for accelerating the development of new health tools for Chagas disease’) to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and one for visceral leishmaniasis (‘The visceral leishmaniasis global R&D & access initiative’) supported by France and Spain for WHO EURO and Sudan for WHO EMRO.

After a decade of discussions and expert reports, the current consultations are a major step forward, especially in recognizing the large gap inR&D for public health needs of developing countries. The consultations were initiated under the WHO umbrella, notably with the Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Public Health report, followed by the WHO Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination (CEWG). The current discussions publicly crystallize the interests and/or resistance of countries and various stakeholders in/to carrying out science through innovative mechanisms such as patent pools, milestone or other prizes, de-linkage of the cost of R&D from product price, public and private consortia.

The projects selected should ‘provide evidence for long-term sustainable solutions’ and, in particular, ‘utilize collaborative approaches, including open knowledge approaches for R&D coordination; promote the delinkage of the cost of R&D from product price; and propose and foster financing mechanisms including innovative, sustainable and pooled funding’. New approaches such as these began to emerge about ten years ago, with the emergence of product development partnerships (PDPs), new push and pull mechanisms such as European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), UNITAID, Medicines Patent Pool, supported by public and private donors. They have brought some important and promising changes to the landscape of R&D, notably for NTDs.

This process could pave the way towards a more sustainable global framework and presents a unique opportunity to demonstrate that new approaches to financing and conducting R&D in a sustainable manner, is possible.
Jean-François Alesandrini, Fundraising & Advocacy Director