Experts Meet To Weigh Health And Environment Scientific Innovations
By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch on 28/03/2011 @ 2:23 pm
Scientific advances in life sciences, in particular health, are being evaluated by experts this week in Lyon, France, with the stated hope of bringing new answers to global health challenges, such as funding, costs, and innovation.
Over three days, what was described as a meeting that is not a business convention, nor a scientific congress, not a civil society debate, nor only a political think tank, 26 multinational companies, 22 non-governmental and patient organisations, and policymakers are supposed to “enrich their knowledge and form their own judgement.”
BioVision is a biannual life sciences forum that gathers international decision-makers and stakeholders from industry, academia, research institutions and non-governmental organisations, and tries to assess the impact of scientific and industrial innovations on society. It is supported by major international organisations, the European Commission, local councils, non-governmental organisations and companies. The 7th edition  of the forum is taking place from 27-29 March.
The forum will host over 160 speakers and some 60 sessions and roundtables, and is expecting as many as 2,000 attendees. A live feed  allows remote attendance to sessions. They include panels on chronic diseases in emerging countries, new sources of biofuel, technology innovation and its role in healthcare delivery, ageing, personalised medicines, cell therapy, research and development challenges and open innovation, and sustainable agriculture.
In 2011, about 100 PhD students and postdoctoral students attended from China, Africa, the Middle East, and India, according to Christian Grenier, CEO of BioVision, opening the forum yesterday.
The first plenary meeting of the forum was entitled “Health: A Right For All Human Beings, At Any Price?” and panellists discussed health and healthcare and how decision-makers could confront the dilemma of the need for safe, effective and innovative drugs, while keeping the costs down.
Health as a Human Right, or as a Goal
The AIDS crisis in the 1990s placed health inequalities on the global agenda, said Michel Kazatchikine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. With about 40 percent of AIDS patients receiving treatment compared to almost 0 percent six years ago, access to health at reasonable prices is a utopian goal within reach, he said. What seemed “unachievable or highly unrealistic now seems achievable by 2015,” he said.
Global health should be set up as a goal, rather than a right, said Esther Duflo, professor social economics, development economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US). Health systems in developing countries are mainly set on the same model, with a qualified nurse close to villagers, health sub-centres a little farther away, then primary health centres, then access to the district hospital. In practice, that structure is not working very well, she said. One reason is that nurses in many countries are absent two-thirds of the time, she said, stressing the importance of taking into account what is happening on the ground.
Health is not the same as healthcare, said Christopher Viehbacher, chief executive officer for Sanofi Aventis, and access to health is not just access to drugs or hospitals but includes a whole range of factors. There is a tendency to put too much focus on one or two aspects of healthcare, he said. In the US, for example, a core problem is an obesity pandemic, which leads to diabetes, some cancer, but not a lot of money goes to prevention although chronic diseases are preventable, he said.
What is most needed is infrastructure, Viehbacher said. Some of the AIDS dollars have to go to building infrastructure instead of being directed solely at specific projects. Health should be considered as a goal, he said. The threat of counterfeit medicines also has to be addressed in developing countries. There is a need to rethink the system and put health and not healthcare at the core of the system, he said.
Innovation Gap, New Drugs at Low Cost Needed, Says MSF
During another plenary session devoted to drugs and developing countries, Tido von Shoen-Angerer, executive director of the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said major successes have been reached in access to HIV medicines, with prices being brought down notably thanks to the “power of generic competition.” The problem is “how to keep people alive” that are on treatment today, he said, and how to further expend access. When people need to move from the first line of treatment to the second line, prices go up dramatically. “This is a time bomb” in terms of prices, he said.
Patent protection in most developing countries is a major barrier to access, von Schoen-Angerer said, adding that an innovative solution to limit this barrier is the Medicines Patent Pool (IPW, Public Health, 10 March 2011 ).
There is a “huge innovation gap” with an urgent need for new drugs, he said, for example to address tuberculosis resistance. “We need bold new ideas and concepts” on how to reward innovation in a way that does not lead to high costs, he said. Innovation prizes, which provide financial reward for a defined public health need have been helpful in other field of technologies, he said, and are drawing significant policy interest in the US and in the EU, he said.
Paul Stoffels, chairman, Global Research & Development, Johnson & Johnson, said that industry had succeeded to turn HIV into a chronic disease, and patients could now survive the illness throughout their life. The development of a good drug needs ”a massive amount of scientific activity,” and “finding a drug today is the most complicated thing in the world,” he said. He also said that best technologies are the best solutions for developing markets, and it is very hard to mobilise resources for neglected diseases. Industry is really committed to global health and willing to contribute, he said, but it needs a financial basis to make it work.
Article printed from Intellectual Property Watch: http://www.ip-watch.org
URL to article: http://www.ip-watch.org/2011/03/28/experts-meet-to-weigh-health-and-environment-scientific-innovations/
URLs in this post:
 The 7th edition: http://www.biovision.org/
 IPW, Public Health, 10 March 2011: http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/2011/03/10/medicines-patent-pool-aims-to-increase-access-to-hiv-drugs-in-developing-countries/