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Optimising access and innovation in science and medical R&D

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The outputs of science can be thought of as information, which gets recycled and drives new research and translation which derives practical benefits for society from scientific research. Traditionally both functions have been facilitated by commercial gatekeepers: publishers managing information transfer and companies managing translation.

Recently there has been a drive towards open data release and open access publishing models for science. This change has been driven by two factors. Firstly the recognition that by enhancing access to information relevant to research, these models stimulate innovation. Secondly, the realisation that such open models can be sustainable: for researchers generating data the benefits of open data release have been found to outweigh the possible harm and therefore do not remove their incentives. Similarly, business models have been shown to exist that can be sustained and are compatible with open access publishing. In both cases the existence of the internet, which has reduced information transfer and transaction costs to essentially zero, has been a major factor in changing the balance of the economics between traditional and open models. There remain challenges, such as trying to extend the benefits of open access based research to datasets that contain private data, such as personal genomics records.

Parallels can be drawn between these developments and analysis of the economic models supporting translation, such as pharmaceutical drug development. The traditional business model for drug development has been of commercial R&D building on academic research leading to a patented product allowing R&D costs to be recovered through sales at high prices. While this market model works to some extent, it is non optimal in that it rations access to new medicines through initial high prices and does not create incentives to develop treatments where the market return would be too low. There has been an ongoing debate around the issue of neglected diseases and access to medicines for more than 20 years. Is it possible to construct business models that improve both incentives for innovation and access?

I will discuss various new models to address these issues that have been proposed and/or are being tested, including prize funds, patent pools, product development partnerships (PDPs) and advance purchase commitments (APCs) and review the process that has taken place at the World Health Organisation 2003-2008 around the Commission for Intellectual Property rights, Innovation and public Health (CIPIH) and the follow on Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) that led to the Global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property which was approved at the World Health Assembly in May 2008.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Student Pugwash Society Talks series.

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