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August 6, 2018

Countdown to September: Innovation Critical to Efforts to Battle Global Health Crises

The clock is ticking ahead of two crucial United Nations high-level meetings slated for September in New York. These meetings are focused on two important health-related goals that rightfully demand global attention: ending tuberculosis and battling noncommunicable diseases. Yet, as member states work busily on draft outcomes for these meetings, they must promote strong incentives to create the cures of the future and not be waylaid by narrow interest groups seeking to dismantle time-tested innovation pathways. Such ill-conceived efforts would have long-term negative implications for patients around the world.

Both challenges are massive and complex. Everybody—from governments to civil society, from international organizations to the private sector—must work together to find solutions. Solving these problems will require new products and solutions geared toward these challenges that will be fueled by innovation and intellectual property.

Innovation and intellectual property must be part of the solution. Whether we’re talking about health care or environmental technologies, autonomous vehicles or information technology, strong intellectual property incentives and protections fuel products that build economies and improve people’s quality of life.

Attacking intellectual property and innovation in the name of public health is thus shortsighted and misguided and will not solve the problems at hand. Take tuberculosis: most medicines used to treat tuberculosis are no longer covered by patent protections. Despite recent breakthroughs, such as the recent launch of the first new anti-tuberculosis medicines in more than 50 years, narrow crusades to scapegoat the private sector only restrict the ability of private-sector innovators (and governments) to serve the very patients who need these cures the most.

Instead, member states must tackle these problems comprehensively. Solving these health crises will require strong commitments from governments and other parties to strengthen health systems: boosting health resources and infrastructure, increasing training for health care professionals, improving statistical monitoring of treatment programs, accelerating regulatory approval for new drugs and reducing trade barriers that drive up supply chain and distribution costs for patients. Similarly, these dialogues must embrace, not exclude, the private sector as part of the solution.

These issues are simply too important for patients around the world to waste time on narrow, divisive solutions. Countries across the development spectrum must come together to push for solutions and reject unworkable language that could cripple our ability to find new cures for patients in years to come.