The World Health Organization has chosen vector-borne illnesses as this year’s campaign theme for its World Heath Day. Included in these diseases are dengue fever, malaria, leishmaniasis, and dengue fever, all of which are intimately related to living conditions, and consequentially, overwhelmingly affect impoverished nations and the most vulnerable populations. Although they are preventable, these four diseases are responsible for the deaths of millions of people, as the most vulnerable populations do not have access to adequate medical technology, vaccines, or treatment to effectively fight the disease.
The pharmaceutical industry’s lack of interest in these diseases has led to a dearth of sufficient R&D and our categorization of malaria, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, and chagas disease as “neglected diseases related to poverty.” However, they have something else in common, as they are all included in the portfolio of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), a non-profit research and development organization created under the direction of Doctors Without Borders to develop treatments for diseases outside the scope of market-driven R&D and neglected by public policy.
Beyond its success in developing 6 new treatments and 12 new chemical compounds, the most remarkable feature of DNDi lies in its novel business model and cost structure. The introduction of a new drug, from the discovery phase to market, costs them around 183 million euros, a number far below the 1,000 million euros the pharmaceutical industry claimed they would need. DNDi’s success proves that there are more efficient ways than the current model of the pharmaceutical industry to carry out research and development in health.
DNDi’s exceptional business model operates on a few fundamental principles : a research and design process that focuses on patients’ needs, open access to information, ensuring patient access to treatments, making the products of its innovation affordable, an decoupling the cost of R&D from the final cost of the product.
Time has proven DNDi to be a successful example of an “alternative model” for innovation in health, and it its success serves as both source of inspiration and a push to reflect on existing models.
There are a number of questions we must ask ourselves now at Salud por Derecho as we think about how to transform our current system of innovation, which has proved inadequate to respond to the needs of patients not only in impoverished countries, but also in the most developed regions. What values or factors unused by other PDPs that have allowed the success of DNDi’s business model? Can we apply a similar model to other diseases that also affect developed countries, like cancer, diabetes, or hepatitis C? What approaches or practices can DNDi or similar initiatives incorporate to ensure financial security without risking its social goals? These questions are difficult to answer. However, the success of DNDi erases any doubt that another model of research and development for health is possible.
Salud por Derecho