GHF2010 – PS36 – Health Biotechnology: The World as a Playing Field

Session Outline

Parallel session PS36, Monday, April 19 2010, 11:00-12:30, Room 13
Chair: Stewart Cole, Head, Global Health Institute, EPFL, Switzerland
Robin Offord
, Mintaka Medical Research Foundation, Switzerland
Summary: Recent developments in science and technology have transformed healthcare and improved the lives of many at an unprecedented pace. The rapid advances in areas such genomics, genetics, proteomics, and bioinformatics have provided wealthy nations a repertoire of tools that have the potential to improve the health of people across the world. With emerging economies now gaining momentum in the development of expertise, the range of players in the field of biotechnology is expanding. The latter has created an open arena for new market opportunities and potential for benefits to developing countries. This session will give the floor to academic, pharmaceutical, and biotech representatives to define how international collaboration can play a significant role in building capacity in developing countries as well as in transferring the benefits of health biotechnology innovation.
Cultivating Health Biotechnology Innovation in Developing Countries
Halla Thorsteinsdóttir, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto and member of the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, Canada
Technological Transfer to Developing Countries: The Challenges for Vaccines
Micheal Watson, Vice President, Global Immunization Policy, Sanofi-Pasteur, France
BioAlps and Global Health 
Catherine Lalive d'Epinay, Member of the Board, BioAlps, Switzerland
Open Innovation for Neglected Diseases
Jon Pender, Director, Government Affairs, GlaxoSmithKline, United Kingdom

Session Documents

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Session Report

Submitted by: Ann Galea (ICVolunteers); Contributors: Anne Descours (ICVolunteers)

Biomedical company producing samples of the PfCP-2 malaria vaccine candidate under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) conditionser Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) condition. Photo: Andy Crump, WHO/TDR/Crump

Thanks to biotechnological development, developed countries now have a wide range of tools and products to tackle health issues. But in a world where low returns on investment have discouraged many pharmaceutical manufacturers, how can developing countries gain access to low cost but effective drugs and vaccines? International specialists from public and private institutions give us their solutions.

With current huge health inequalities between rich and poor countries, it is inconceivable that the Millennium Development Goals will be attained using Public Health interventions alone. This was the key message from Halla Thorsteinsdóttir, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto and member of the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, Canada. Health biotechnology can play a leading role in improving global health by providing affordable and cost effective innovative health products. However the capacity for poorer countries to develop and benefit from Biotechnology remains a big challenge. The key to success lies in closer collaboration between developed and developing countries while making due consideration for intellectual property rights. South-South collaboration has also been reported but admittedly this has centred on market research and product dissemination. The US is the biggest mover in the field and huge knowledge gaps persist. The good news is that encouraging trends have been observed, especially in China, India and Brazil, where an increasing capacity and sophistication in this field has been shown. Biotechnologies that are most relevant to developing countries include affordable and rapid molecular diagnostic tests, recombinant and heat stable vaccines for tropical and other neglected diseases, new drug and vaccine delivery systems as well as a wider application of genomics. The speaker drove her point home with examples. Cuba responded to an outbreak of meningitis B during the 1980s by developing its own vaccine which not only curbed the epidemic, but has had a sustained effect until today. As a reaction to the increasing number of people suffering from diabetes, China started its own production of low cost recombinant insulin, thus generating jobs and also decreasing its dependence on international drug manufacturers. India is producing a Hepatitis B vaccine at lower than international prices thus Hepatitis B prevention is today more affordable to poorer countries.

According to Michael Watson, Vice President, Global Immunization Policy, Sanofi-Pasteur, France, the transfer of vaccine technology is not easy and has local and global implications. It requires sustained commitment between two parties who are willing to cooperate and exchange both financial and human capital in a way that is profitable and sustainable to both. Vaccine technology is a highly capital intensive field and has to overcome major quality and regulation hurdles. Producers need to take into consideration a number of factors related to cost, available skills and technology, final product quality, donor politics, strict regulation by overseeing bodies as well as investor and public expectations. Historically vaccine technology has passed through four phases. Starting from an early ‘Heroic Era’ it progressed on to a National Public Health Era in the 1930s, where cost, technology, stricter regulation and Intellectual Property Rights became more important. However, by the early 1980s a divergence in global vaccination coverage was evident and subsequently Global Eradication Programmes were launched in the 1990s. This shifted the balance towards a global market were volume, price considerations and donor politics became major issues. Many western vaccine manufacturers exited the market and the current era of Privatization has followed, with low-cost production being stepped up in some developing countries such as India. Today, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) has become a major player and is virtually shaping the market. It has realistically funded both the purchasing of vaccines as well as research and development of new vaccines, thus encouraging the re-entry of manufacturers in developed countries who are trying to obtain a balance between producing low cost vaccines while keeping a positive return on investment.

Catherine Lalive d’Epinay presented BioAlps, the life sciences cluster of Western Switzerland. BioAlps is one of the four Swiss bio-clusters and gathers 750 biotech and medtech companies as well as universities, public research institutes and the seven French-speaking cantons. Its main goal is to foster networking, innovation and performance.

BioAlps is the fastest growing cluster in the world thanks to a unique environment. The proximity of financial institutions combined with the presence of international organizations and top level innovation actors makes it an exceptional area in terms of science funding, investments and technology transfer. BioAlps also promotes interactions between different life sciences specialties (medtech, infotech, biopharma and nanotechnologies) and presents several performing technology transfer offices and incubators. These, together with an efficient integration into a solid European network, contribute strongly to maintaining a high level of innovation in the region.

Guy Willis from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) replaced Jon Pender from GlaxoSmithKline. GSK is a leading actor in the pharmaceutical market and is proposing a new business strategy to tackle the main diseases of the developing world (HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, but also non-communicable diseases). How to improve drugs and vaccines availability in countries where the health spending per capita is a hundred time lower than in developed countries and thus, where profit for manufacturers is much lower? A new sustainable business model is needed for these countries. GSK is developing what they call a ‘knowledge pool’ and has opened a research centre in Spain where they provide open access to labs, technologies and compounds libraries to scientists from southern countries looking for new drug and vaccine candidates. It is important to involve these countries increasingly in the drug development process. In regions where there is no real commercial market, a private/public partnership (PPP) is needed. Different organizations have a role to play: private companies are the main actors in research and development, manufacturing and regulatory assessment, but they need public partners, such as governments, the European Union and the G8 for funding and international organisations such as WHO to define strategy and bring coordination.

The question of the right price for the end product in these countries remains open.

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