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Global health research needs to focus on clinical trials to deliver products for patients, says report

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 27 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3031

Rapid Response:

Re: Global health research needs to focus on clinical trials to deliver products for patients, says report

To the editor,

As the authors of the report cited in a recent article (“Global health research needs to focus on clinical trials to deliver products for patients, says report,” dated 27 April 2012), we are delighted that global health research and product development has garnered the attention of BMJ. However, we believe it is important to correct an inaccuracy in the article regarding the report’s recommendations. The article states, “The focus of investments into global health research should switch from basic research to clinical trials to translate the findings from the past 10 years into products that benefit people, says a report from two international charities.”

Our report—titled “Saving Lives and Creating Impact: Why Investing in Global Health Research Works”—in no way calls on the US Government to fund clinical trials at the expense of basic research. Indeed, the report finds that all stages of research—from early science to the later stages of product development—are critical to the successful creation of new global health tools. Successes in basic research are critical steps along the way to the creation of a new health tool. We believe that all stages of research are important, and would never recommend sacrificing certain research stages for others.

Instead, our report finds that in addition to funding basic, discovery, and preclinical research—where the majority of US support from 2000 to 2010 has been focused—the United States should also increase its funding for the final stages of product development, which are often the most expensive and most in need of support. According to the report, other groups (such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and private industry) are providing about 60 percent of all funding for the later stages of product development.

This current system is unsustainable as more and more products move into these expensive, later-stage clinical trials. Given that there is now the largest pipeline of new global health products in history, with a total of 365 products under development, this scenario is very likely in the near future.

US support for global health research has been crucial, contributing to the development of half of all new global health products introduced over the past 10 years. All stages of research have been an important part of this effort, from basic and discovery research to late-stage clinical trials. Many products have emerged from successful early-stage research and now need support in clinical trials, or soon will. By increasing its support for later-stage trials and maintaining its commitment to basic research, the US Government can help push the next generation of lifesaving products over the research finish line and into the hands of people in need worldwide.

Kaitlin Christenson is the coalition director of the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC), an advocacy group of 40 nonprofit organizations working on global health research and product development.

Mary Moran is the executive director of Policy Cures, a not-for-profit research group specializing in global health research and product development.

Competing interests: No competing interests

18 May 2012
Kaitlin A. Christenson
Coalition Director
Mary Moran, Executive Director, Policy Cures
Global Health Technologies Coalition
455 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20001