Public support for biomedical research & development is critical for scientific progress and instrumental in allowing innovative health technologies to reach markets and patients. This support, economic or in-kind, is often decisive in the early stages of research for health technologies, such as vaccines or CAR- T therapies, which are then marketed by companies for extortionate prices, generating huge profits. Ensuring the public return on public investment remains a major challenge for funders and public research institutions. The report Licensing and Access to Health Technologies: overcoming the obstacles to public return on public investment in R&D, by Health Action International and Salud por Derecho, addresses the main issues affecting the public and non-exclusive licensing of research generated by publicly supported institutions.

It looks not only at legal and administrative hurdles, such as intellectual property rights, but also at the internal policy dilemmas faced by professionals and institutions. The report provides a comprehensive list of recommendations to help secure improved access to health technologies developed with public support.

  • Regarding licensing policies. Exclusivity in contracts and commercialisation of innovations are tied concepts as per the literature and the research. To ensure access equity, affordability, diversified production and manufacturing following the global public goods approach, broader discussion is needed on reforming and finding alternatives to the current system from the core. Changes in licensing policies establishing clear and defined policy commitments at the political and institutional levels will improve downstream access permeating to technical issues.

  • Regarding the market. Public interest and social impact must be included in market dynamics. With that purpose, the scope of some concepts, including patents, innovation, or access provisions, must be looked at more closely. However, such discussions should be entered into by decisionmakers as well as at the technical level, engaging multiple stakeholders who participate in the innovation chain. The issue of transferring knowledge is a political option.

  • Regarding barriers for licensing. Considered as a political issue, the main obstacles in terms of licensing could be overcome with policies and legal frameworks which include public interest and access provisions in their different mechanisms for licensing. It will entail financial support, strengthening TTO capacities when needed or public interest indicators, among others.

  • Regarding Intellectual Property Rights. Barriers for sharing knowledge and IP are identified at different levels. Removing them will entail systemic changes and the reform of domestic and supranational legal frameworks able to address the needs of a multistakeholder space and multiple interests, starting with the interest of society.

  • Regarding funders and financial support. Funders have a great role to play since many of the access provisions can be incorporated into grant agreements. Such a shift would be assumed by research institutions and tech transfer units. This financial support is needed for an end-to-end project development, which would guarantee investments to complete the clinical phase.

  • Regarding Ad-hoc initiatives – Initiatives such as those created for the COVID-19 pandemic need to be enhanced, strengthened, and expanded, including to other diseases.

Download the full report here.

November 2022