Sydney, Australia, 17 September 2020—Emerging infectious diseases—both known and unknown—remain a constant threat as the world fights COVID-19, yet past R&D investments show the need for more consistent and diversified funding to prevent future pandemics, according to the new G-FINDER report on emerging infectious disease (EID) by Policy Cures Research, a global health think tank.
The report, Landscape of Emerging Infectious Disease R&D: Preventing the next pandemic, tracks global funding for basic research and products such as vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to fight priority EIDs, including coronaviruses, Ebola and Zika, as well as Disease X—the name given to unknown pathogens with pandemic potential—between 2014 and 2018.
“COVID-19 has given us a taste of what it means to be unprepared for emerging infectious diseases,” said Dr Nick Chapman, CEO of Policy Cures Research. “EID R&D funding has increased sharply in recent years, and we’ve seen some of the fruits of that investment already with the approval of two vaccines for Ebola. But we’ll never be prepared for the next pandemic if we only invest in R&D targeting diseases grabbing headlines at the time.”
Getting to $886m in EID R&D funding
Funding for EID R&D reached US$886 million in 2018—its highest level in the five years covered by the report. The West African Ebola epidemic, Zika in the Americas and then a second Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo drove some of the largest increases in EID R&D spending between 2014 and 2018. The creation of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in 2017, and growing recognition of Disease X as a priority area for R&D also led to increased funding in 2017 and 2018.
Other diseases – such as Lassa fever, coronaviruses, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, Rift Valley fever and Nipah virus – received significantly less R&D funding, with each of these disease families receiving 5% or less of total global funding in 2018.
The report shows that most increases in R&D activity for EIDs are reactive. For example, funding to fight the West African Ebola pandemic drove nearly all EID R&D funding from 2014 to 2016, but fell off as the pandemic waned. A strong global response to Zika pushed its funding from just $6m in 2015 to $243m in 2017. With clinical trials and funding for Zika both tailing off in 2018, a fresh outbreak of Ebola in DRC ended the decline in Ebola funding, and partly offset the fall in Zika funding.
“The current landscape of R&D for EIDs is very reactive,” said Dr Paul Barnsley, lead author of the report. “Instead of joining a fight when it’s too late, we need consistent investments across the full range of diseases and products to give us a better chance at beating back the next pandemic.”
More than a shot needed
The report also notes most R&D investments for EIDs focus on vaccines, while therapeutics and diagnostics receive much less funding. Vaccine R&D received just over half of all funding between 2014 and 2018. Basic research received the next largest share – 17% – just ahead of the combined total for biologics (9.4%) and drugs (6.7%). Diagnostic products received only 3.6% of total funding.
US dominates EID R&D funding, but more players are stepping up
The US government provided 61% of funding to product developers between 2014 and 2018. Combined with US-based pharmaceutical companies, nearly three-quarters of global funding came solely from the US. However, other governments and major philanthropic funders increased their commitments in 2017 and 2018, which somewhat rebalanced EID R&D funding. The report says a truly global commitment to pandemic preparedness must be broader, more proactive, and less reliant on one government. The evolving global response to the COVID-19 pandemic suggests a potential sea change, particularly with CEPI’s expanding role.
A call for more cross-cutting R&D, especially in light of COVID-19
The report finds CEPI has provided an agile new financing model that helped quickly advance R&D following the outbreak of COVID-19, but only for vaccines – leaving other products behind. The report stresses the world needs to maintain funding for a broad range of R&D, including basic research, drugs and diagnostics.
“Some missed opportunities will haunt us with COVID-19, but CEPI was instrumental in early COVID-19 R&D funding,” Barnsley said. “And its earlier R&D efforts led to existing products in the pipeline, especially vaccine platforms, that jumpstarted the COVID-19 R&D process in January, meaning we are farther along now than we would have been otherwise.”
COVID-19 provides a clear picture of the potential costs of a failure to prepare. According to the report, future EID R&D funding needs to be much more forward-looking and diversified: less focused on basic research for one or two pathogens in the news; less focused on vaccines at the expense of investigating other vital tools; and supported by a wider range of funders. To reduce the uncertainties EIDs present, the report recommends funders commit to cross-cutting R&D applicable to a range of existing EIDs while building the foundation for responding to unknown pathogens.
The G-FINDER EID project is part of Policy Cures Research’s flagship G-FINDER project tracking annual R&D investment for new products and technologies designed to address persistent global health challenges unduly affecting people in developing countries.
Funding for the G-FINDER EID report
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) provided funding for this report through the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security. The views and opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent those of DFAT or the Australian Government.
About Policy Cures Research
Policy Cures Research is a global health think tank with a long and pioneering history in global health R&D data collection and analysis, securing our position as a trusted source of quality evidence within the sector.
Mr. Wynne Boelt
Strategic Communications Advisor
Policy Cures Research
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