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US$1 billion per year needed for pandemic control R&D

The world needs to spend US$1 billion each year on R&D over the next 15 years to combat infectious disease outbreaks, a report has warned.

“The recent Ebola crisis revealed many deficiencies in the global product armoury, from diagnostics to vaccines to personal protective equipment—and this is for a virus discovered nearly 40 years ago,” its authors write.

The report, written by a group of experts set up by seven organisations including the UK’s Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to look into global health risks posed by epidemics, was published on 13 January.

The 16-member Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future includes Oyewale Tomori, the president of the Nigerian Academy of Science. Another member is Maria Freire, the president of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, a state-sanctioned fundraising tool for the NIH in the United States.

The report calls on the World Health Organization to set up an independent body to oversee emerging disease R&D and product development. The authors want this body to be involved in diagnostics and supplying the equipment to fast-track clinical trails.

They say the proposed Pandemic Product Development Committee should work with other funders to focus resources on R&D infrastructure, clinical trials, and products and innovation centred on disease prevention.

“Recent epidemics have highlighted gaping holes in our ability to rapidly deploy medical products that will not only help identify and contain outbreaks, but also care and treat those affected,” the authors write.

They say national governments, philanthropic organisations, and private organisations should foot the bill.

Failing this, they suggest siphoning money from national security R&D and leveraging money from funders outside the traditional health sphere, such as the medical insurance or tourism industries.