Types of Research
The private sector is the primary investor in health research and development (R&D) worldwide, with investment annual investment exceeding $150 billion, although only an estimated $5.9 billion is focused on diseases that primarily affect low and middle-income countries (LMICs) (West et al., 2017b). Pharmaceutical companies are the largest source of private spending on global health R&D focused on LMICs, providing $5.6 billion of the $5.9 billion in total private global health R&D per year. This report draws on 10-K forms filed by Pharmaceutical companies with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the year 2016 to examine the evidence for five specific disincentives to private sector investment in drugs, vaccines and therapeutics for global health R&D: scientific uncertainty, weak policy environments, limited revenues and market uncertainty, high fixed costs for research and manufacturing, and imperfect markets. 10-K reports follow a standard format, including a business section and a risk section which include information on financial performance, investment options, lines of research, promising acquisitions and risk factors (scientific, market, and regulatory). As a result, these filings provide a valuable source of information for analyzing how private companies discuss risks and challenges as well as opportunities associated with global health R&D targeting LMICs.
The share of private sector funding, relative to public sector funding, for drug, vaccine, and diagnostic research & development (R&D) differs considerably across diseases. Private sector investment in overall health R&D exceeds $150 billion annually, but is largely concentrated on non-communicable chronic diseases with only an estimated $5.9 billion focused on "global health", targeting diseases that primarily affect low and middle-income countries (LMICs). We examine the evidence for five specific disincentives to private sector global health R&D investment: scientific uncertainty, weak policy environments, limited revenues and market uncertainty, high fixed and sunk costs, and downstream rents from imperfect markets. Though all five may affect estimates of net returns from an investment decision, they are worth examining separately as each calls for a different intervention or remediation to change behavior.
This research considers how public good characteristics of different types of research and development (R&D) and the motivations of different providers of R&D funding affect the relative advantages of alternative funding sources. We summarize the public good characteristics of R&D for agriculture in general and for commodity and subsistence crops in particular, as well as R&D for health in general and for neglected diseases in particular, with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Finally, we present rationales for which funders are predicted to fund which R&D types based on these funder and R&D characteristics. We then compile available statistics on funding for agricultural and health R&D from private, public and philanthropic sources, and compare trends in funding from these sources against expectations. We find private agricultural R&D spending focuses on commodity crops (as expected). However contrary to expectations we find public and philanthropic spending also goes largely towards these same crops rather than staples not targeted by private funds. For health R&D private funders similarly concentrate on diseases with higher potential financial returns. However unlike in agricultural R&D, in health R&D we observe some specialization across funders – especially for neglected diseases R&D - consistent with funders’ expected relative advantages.