Sunday, May 28, 2006

US support R&D in areas of public health priority

James Love is giving credit where it is due to the Bush administration.

"Something very good happened today, at a UN agency, and much of the credit goes to the Bush Administration.

The World Health Organization's main governing body just approved a resolution that will set in motion an ambitious new effort to stimulate R&D in areas of public health priority, with access to new medical inventions.

This has been a highly controversial topic. Pfizer and other big pharmaceutical companies lobbied very aggressively against any move by the WHO to create global norms for setting R&D priorities, to identify mechanisms for sustainable funding for R&D, or to design R&D mechanisms that don't create barriers for access. The pharmaceutical industry wants US trade negotiators to focus only on measures the raise drug prices.

Public health groups (including my own), scientists, and a number of others have been arguing that we need something else for globalization -- we need treaties or trade agreements that focus on funding R&D, and we need new R&D incentive mechanisms that are not tied to high drug prices.

Until this week, big PhRMA could count on the Bush Administration to block serious global discussions to consider this new paradigm. But the Bush Administration flipped this week, and backed an ambitious and serious effort to create a new global framework to support R&D in areas of priority...

The feeling here today is somewhat magical."

That's won't be the end of the battle as there are too many powerful interests, the big drug companies prime amongst them, rallying against this initiative, but it does indicate the battle can be won. There are huge numbers of smart, highly dedicated people engaged in public services all over the world, including in the much criticised Bush administration. Those people are prepared to listen if people with powerful arguments, like the lack of market focus on devastating but neglected diseases such as tuberculosis and sleeping sickness, can get a hearing in the complex, messy environments that constitute these public officials professional lives. It's a pity the European Commission officials showed up with a position drafted by the pharmaceutical industry and its a pity the industry should feel the need to oppose such an initiative but congratulations to all of those involved in ensuring this first small step has been taken.

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