UN health agency seeks to close gaps in pharmaceutical research and innovation

18 November 2004 – Promoting pharmaceutical innovation by shortening the development process, revamping the payment system and a varied approach to balancing research and market demands, with Europe playing the leading role, are among the findings of a groundbreaking report released by the United Nations health agency today.

The World Health Organization (WHO) study – Priority Medicines for Europe and the World – commissioned by the Dutch Government as current President of the European Union (EU), seeks to close gaps in pharmaceutical research and innovation to best address health needs and emerging threats in Europe and the world.

At present, pharmaceutical research and development are based on a market-driven incentive system relying primarily on patents and protected pricing as a prime financing mechanism. As a result, a number of health needs are left unaddressed.

“This report identifies health gaps and potential solutions,” WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook said. “It is particularly timely for a continent where an ageing population faces increasing health problems, and for a world where old and new threats no longer respect national borders.”

The study identifies a priority list of medicines for Europe and the rest of the world, taking into account Europe’s ageing population, the increasing burden of non-communicable illnesses in developing countries and diseases which persist in spite of the availability of effective treatments.

It looks at the gaps in research and innovation for these medicines and provides specific policy recommendations on creating incentives and closing those gaps. Among its recommendations are:

  • Efforts to shorten the medicine development process without compromising patient safety would greatly assist in promoting pharmaceutical innovation through a review of regulatory requirements within the process for relevance, costing, and predictive value.
  • Health and reimbursement authorities and manufacturers should agree on general principles for the evaluation of future medicines, with a research agenda on the various methods of rewarding clinical performance and linking prices to national income levels.
  • A varied approach to the issues of research and the market. For instance where the market is strong and the problem is poor understanding of the disease’s biology, investment in basic research and in facilitating innovation by the pharmaceutical industry will be needed, but where the biology is well understood but the market is weak, public support for bridging the gap between basic and clinical research, possibly through public-private partnerships, will be the preferred solution.
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