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R&D needs for global health

“Global health” can be defined in many ways. Policy Cures Research uses “global health” to capture three different health areas – neglected diseases, emerging infectious diseases, and sexual & reproductive health – with a specific focus on medical research and biomedical innovation within these historically neglected and underfunded areas.

Although all basic research and relevant product types are considered part of our definition of global health, not every combination of health issue and product type is included in our estimates of global R&D funding, and some combinations are included only with restrictions. Appropriately targeted platform technologies (such as adjuvants, diagnostic platforms and delivery devices), multi-disease vector control products and multipurpose prevention technologies are also included in our definition of global health.

Find out more about the products we cover here. Additional detail on inclusions and restrictions by global health area is provided below.

Neglected diseases

Find out how our definition of neglected diseases differs from the WHO neglected tropical disease list

Prior to the commencement of the G-FINDER project, there was no generally accepted definition of ‘neglected diseases’ and, for many diseases, no agreement on which new products were needed. Before the start of the survey in 2008, in order to reach a consensus position on these questions, a list was created of all diseases classified by major health bodies or publications as a ‘neglected disease’. This list was then assessed by an international Advisory Committee of 17 experts in neglected disease and R&D, who filtered candidates against

  • The burden of the disease or condition disproportionately affects people in low- and middle-income countries;
  • There is no existing product to treat / prevent the disease or condition, OR a product exists but is poorly suited for use in low- and middle-income countries; AND
  • There is no commercial market to stimulate R&D by industry.

We maintain ongoing consultation with the Advisory Committee for advice on applying this definition in response to changes in the R&D or pathogenic landscape. Where the Advisory Committee does not reach a consensus, their views are supplemented by advice from further technical and R&D experts.

The result of this consultation is that not all areas of research are judged as meeting our definition of ‘neglected’ in relation to every disease, and some are included only with restrictions. For example, investments in pneumonia drug R&D are excluded because a sufficient commercial market exists; while pneumonia vaccine R&D investments are only included if they meet specific requirements for strain, vaccine type and target age group.

Some R&D investment is counted as targeting both neglected diseases and emerging infectious diseases. This includes core funding to organisations focusing on pathogens from both categories, broadly-applicable platform technologies and vector control products aimed at vectors responsible for transmitting both neglected diseases and emerging infectious diseases.

A comprehensive explanation of all current inclusions, exclusions and restrictions, as well as changes to the scope over time, is provided by the neglected disease scope document. For background information on each neglected disease, including their specific unmet needs, please see below.

Emerging infectious diseases

Policy Cures Research began gathering data on R&D targeting emerging infectious diseases in response to the 2014 West African Ebola epidemic. In our 2015 G-FINDER survey and report (looking at investments made in 2014), this focused exclusively on Ebola R&D. Since then, we have adopted a progressively broader scope in each subsequent year, determined in consultation with the G-FINDER Advisory Committee and a separate emerging infectious diseases Expert Advisory Group.

Our current definition of emerging infectious diseases closely follows the list of priority diseases endorsed by the 2018 World Health Organisation research and development Blueprint for action to prevent epidemics (the Blueprint). The survey also gathers data on emerging infectious diseases and disease groups not included in the Blueprint priority list, including several pathogens which have been considered for inclusion.

Compared to our neglected disease definition, our definition of emerging infectious diseases has very few restrictions. R&D for almost all product development categories (drugs, vaccines, biologics, and diagnostics) is included without further restrictions for all priority emerging infectious diseases pathogens, as is basic research. R&D for vector control products is included where relevant.

Some R&D investment is counted as targeting both neglected diseases and emerging infectious diseases. This includes core funding to organisations focusing on pathogens from both categories, broadly-applicable platform technologies and vector control products aimed at vectors responsible for transmitting both neglected diseases and emerging infectious diseases..

A comprehensive explanation of all current inclusions, exclusions and restrictions, as well as changes to the scope over time, is provided by the emerging infectious disease scope document. For background information on each emerging infectious disease, including their specific unmet needs, please see below.

Sexual & reproductive health issues

Building on a previous one-off report on global funding for reproductive health published by Policy Cures in 2014, Policy Cures Research began tracking funding for R&D for sexual & reproductive health issues in 2019 (when we collected 2018 data), this time with a slightly broader scope. Our updated definition of sexual & reproductive health issues was determined through a multi-stage process, starting with an initial, broad stakeholder consultation with 46 of the world’s leading stakeholder organisations. Participants included major donors, NGOs, peak bodies and coalitions, and research and innovation organisations. An Expert Advisory Group comprising 23 global experts in sexual & reproductive health was then convened to refine our definition through several rounds of consultation.

As with neglected diseases, our definition of sexual & reproductive health aims to capture R&D that is relevant to the sexual and reproductive health needs of people in low- and middle-income countries according to the following overarching criteria:

  1. The area is a significant health issue affecting people in low- and middle-income countries;
  2. There is a need for new products (i.e. there is no existing product, or improved or additional products are needed to meet the needs of people in low- and middle-income countries).

We maintain an ongoing consultation with the Expert Advisory Group for advice on how to apply our definition of sexual & reproductive health issues in particular contexts. Where there is disagreement between experts, their decisions are supplemented by advice from further technical and R&D experts.

Not all basic research and product types are included in our definition of sexual & reproductive health issues, and some are included only with restrictions. For example, syphilis diagnostics are excluded because cheap, easy-to-use, point-of-care diagnostics already exist and are appropriate for use in low- and middle-income settings; while syphilis drugs are included but only for those that target latent, tertiary, maternal or congenital syphilis, since drugs to treat early stage syphilis are effective and readily available.

Some R&D investment is counted as targeting both neglected diseases and sexual & reproductive health. This includes core funding to organisations focusing on more than one disease or issue from different global health areas; and platform technologies, where the product could feasibly be used for both sexual & reproductive health issues or neglected diseases, such as general drug or vaccine delivery platforms. HIV and hepatitis B are part of both our neglected disease and our sexual & reproductive health definitions, and may therefore appear in our analysis covering either of these disease areas.

A comprehensive explanation of all current inclusions, exclusions and restrictions is provided by the sexual & reproductive health scope document. For background information on each sexual & reproductive health issue, including their specific unmet needs, please see below.