Focus on Innovation to Improve Health and Cut Costs

Through creativity, perseverance, and significant capital investments, researchers around the world are developing cutting-edge medicines that save and extend lives. But transforming an idea into a valuable new treatment doesn’t happen overnight.

There’s no short path between a promising molecule and a new medicine. In fact, in some cases, it can require as many as 5,000 researched compounds, 87 different protein structures, 500,000 lab tests, 1,600 scientists, 12 years of setbacks and breakthroughs, 36 clinical trials, and 8,500 patient volunteers to bring just one new treatment to people who need it.

To keep the engine of innovation running, we need to protect and reward the commitment, collaboration, champions, and capital that produce lifesaving treatments and improve public health. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) is going in the opposite direction – pursuing a narrow focus on just one component of national health care budgets, while ignoring the root causes of rising health care spending and putting at risk the incentives that drive discovery of new treatments and cures for patients worldwide.

The WHO will convene a forum in Amsterdam to discuss global “price setting” for medicines. This invitation-only event will bring together some 300 activists, academics and United Nations officials to watch films and vote on hypothetical scenarios for the future.

The WHO’s absurdly narrow focus not only looks set to ignore the broader non-communicable disease challenge that is responsible for driving health care costs higher around the world, but also the critical contribution of medical discovery to reducing health care spending. For example:

  •  Every $24 spent on medicine for cardiovascular disease saves $89 in hospital costs, and 
  • Between 2000 and 2009, new medicines accounted for 75 percent of life expectancy gains in many countries. 

That impact is poised to continue with future innovations:

  • A new medicine to halt Parkinson’s disease would save Germany €22 billion by 2040, and
  • An innovative treatment that delayed dementia onset by 5 years would save the UK £21.2 billion.

In two weeks, countries around the world will choose the next head of the WHO. Candidates from Ethiopia, Pakistan and the United Kingdom are in the running. Whoever is selected will have a chance to take this conversation in a productive direction. By engaging the many women and men who have devoted their lives to medical research and by supporting proper incentives for continued progress, new medicines can continue to address our biggest global health challenges. 

Read this story in Dutch here