Examining Global Partnerships to Improve Innovation and Access to Medicines on a Sustainable, Priority Needs Basis: MDG 8, Target 8.E

What role can product development partnerships play in order to improve access to medicines for neglected diseases?

Project Summary

To achieve several of the Millenium Development Goals (4,5,6,8), significant improvement must be made in innovation and access to affordable medicines, particularly in developing countries. New and existing treatments remain unavailable and unaffordable to those who need them. But while solutions are urgently needed, evidence shows that progress to achieve the health-related MDGs has been slow (MDG Gap Task Force Report 2010, WHO Report EB128/7).

This research project will examine existing and new ideas for global partnerships as agreed under the MDG 8 to address the problems of lack of access and innovation for medicines on a sustainable, priority needs’ basis. In particular, our research questions deal with the economics of product development partnerships (PDPs) for neglected diseases in order to better understand whether these partnerships may be an efficient mechanism in research and development on neglected diseases and how policy at the international level might support and enhance the formation and sustainability of PDPs institutionally.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Chapter 1: Can medical products be developed on a non-profit basis? Exploring Product Development Partnerships for Neglected Diseases

Reliance on market forces can lead to underinvestment in social welfare enhancing innovation. The lack of new medical products in the area of neglected diseases is a case in point. R&D for neglected diseases has increased with new funding and collaborations taking place mainly through Product Development Partnerships (PDPs). PDPs are self-governing, private non-profit R&D organizations. In contrast, to push and pull instruments designed to address private sector R&D underinvestment, PDPs have voluntarily emerged to address the public health challenge. In this study, we examine how non-profit R&D collaboration for neglected diseases takes place through PDPs. We find that PDPs act as “system integrators” that leverage the resources and capabilities of a diverse network of public, philanthropic and private sector partnerships. This paper contributes to the understanding of R&D in a non-profit context and highlights the importance of collaboration and non-market institutions for promoting innovation where market failures are present.

Working Paper

Chapter 2: Public-Private Partnerships: Putting Business Before Health?

Public and private sector interaction in health has always existed at the national level; in the United Nations (UN) system, public-private partnerships (PPPs) started at the end of the 1990s with the reform of the UN system launched by Kofi Annan. In response to Resolution 55/215 “Towards global partnerships”22 the United Nations General Assembly asked the Secretary General “to seek the views of all Members States on ways and means to enhance cooperation between the United Nations and all relevant partners, in particular the private sector, on how to enhance cooperation with the United Nations”.


PPPs and PDPs are still a kind of humanitarian aid that emerged after the colonial period; the only difference is that they give more power to control the implementation avoiding, as before, to question the philosophy of the North-South cooperation. It is not intended at any time to end these partnerships, but it would be important to think of some measures which can help to better ensure that public-private partnerships.

Working Paper

Chapter 3: Intellectual property management in not-for-profit innovation: The case of product development partnerships in neglected diseases

This study examines the management of intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the context of not-for-profit medical product R&D and innovation. The specific case of Product Development Partnerships (PDPs) in the area of neglected diseases is considered. A survey was conducted covering the whole population of PDPs. Consistent with previous literature this study finds that in the area of neglected diseases where commercial markets are low or non-existent, IPRs do not function as an incentive for innovation. Nevertheless, the management of IPRs is an important consideration for all PDPs. This is the case because PDPs can be both “users” of IPRs in seeking access to background technology and know-how that can be protected by IPRs held by third parties, and also “producers” of IPRs related to the results of their R&D projects, alone or with partners. R&D collaboration is central to the PDP model. IPRs are one mechanism by which PDPs aim to attract private firm interest in R&D partnership, though R&D collaborations should work in line with the overall innovation and global access goals of the PDP. In this sense, the IP management approaches of PDP are conditioned by their non-profit nature and their mandate to bring about new medical products that are affordable and accessible to poor populations that need them. PDPs report the use of IPR protection for strategic purposes that they consider further advance their not-for-profit goal.

Working Paper

Chapter 4: Report of the final project workshop

Workshop Report: In this session, two presentations were made, concerning three papers that were developed as part of the project.

Executive Summary

This research project examined Product Development Partnerships (PDPs) as a form of institutional experimentation to address the lack of R&D and innovation in medical products diseases for which the principal patient markets are located in poor countries. In our research we were interested in the value of this institutional experimentation and understanding the mechanisms that give it a certain operational efficiency in the field of neglected diseases. We were also interested in what we can learn from what PDPs can tell us about the economics and organisation of R&D in the pharmaceutical domain. We find that the integration of research and innovation entities – from the public and private sectors – by PDPs, in a context of low private profitability, constitutes an indisputable and in many ways surprising success. Nonetheless, PDPs have noteworthy imperfections, drawbacks and limitations. Improvements in terms of sustainability, priority setting, internal management and governance are desirable as well as in the area of coordination and information between the PDPs themselves.

Research Team

Dominique Foray
Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

German Velasquez
South Centre

Viviana Munoz Tellez
Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

Pascale Boulet
Principal Member

Patrick Gaulé
Associated Member






Host Institution