Return on Innovation: Why Global Health R&D is a Smart Investment for the United States

Caitlin Grzeskowiak

The gap between increasing global health risks and declining levels of investment in research and development (R&D) is growing, according to a newly released report, Return on Innovation: Why global health R&D is a smart investment for the United States.

Released by the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) and Policy Cures Research, the study notes global health R&D investments have declined since peaking in 2009 despite the health impact and economic returns from these investments. A notable example is the polio vaccine which resulted in cost savings of $180 billion on treatment relative to the $26 million invested in vaccine research and development.

The government plays an essential role in funding innovative R&D investments, said Courtney Carson, policy and advocacy officer at GHTC at a report briefing on July 20 in Washington D.C. “There is a lack of a commercial incentive for the private sector to invest in developing new drugs and vaccines for [Malaria, TB, and Ebola]… because these diseases primarily impact the poor, [so] there’s no real opportunity to recover R&D costs through sales.” This makes government investment critical to de-risk innovation for private sector down the line, she noted.

In addition to the economic benefits, global health R&D investment advances medical research overall and provides medicines for diseases that affect poorer nations. Jami Taylor, senior director, Global Health Systems Policy & Partnerships, Johnson & Johnson, highlighted U.S. investments in HIV vaccine & microbicide research that have saved lives around the globe.

If the U.S. were to enact proposed federal funding cuts for medical and health research, it would create a gap in R&D investments worldwide, she said. Instead, we should be increasing our global presence. While many have referred to America as a “shining city on a hill,” Taylor considers America as a “shining laboratory on a hill,” explaining that “when America innovates, the whole world benefits.”

Dr. Elizabeth Cameron, senior director for Global Biological Policy and Programs for the Nuclear Threat Initiative emphasized the importance of the work done at the Fogarty International Center to combat global health and security threats to the U.S. The Center performs a lot of traditional work on surveillance and clinical work, she said, but also on threat reduction programs. International collaborations have immediate benefits to American security so relationship building with other nations before an epidemic happens is critical, she argued.

Jamie Bay Nishi, director, Global Health Technologies Coalition, discussed the devastating effects of cutting funding for these programs, explaining “those are the researchers who are on the front lines, looking at surveillance developing diagnostics, developing the tools that we need to assess some of these threats.”

Current budget negotiations on Capitol Hill are an opportunity for agencies to break down silos and foster collaborations, said Dr. J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president and director, Global Health Policy Center, Center for Strategic and International Studies. Although the Trump Administration has proposed funding cuts, he said leadership across agencies and in Congress have been supportive of medical research. “The fact that we have continuity in leadership in the form of [NIH Director] Francis Collins and [NIAID Director] Tony Fauci, let’s not underrate that,” he said. “In Congress, we’ve had some remarkably clear and powerful statements coming forward from both Democrats and Republicans that are tying together the value of R&D.” 

Caitlin Grzeskowiak is a Research!America Communications Intern.

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