Wendy is a the global leader of the social impact practice. She is a member of the Health Care practice, has extensive experience working on social-impact cases, and is the global topic leader for the firm’s Global Health work.
How can new drugs, vaccines, and treatments be generated as quickly as possible to help tackle the diseases of the developing world?
Today’s global health environment is incredibly dynamic. Financial support has grown dramatically. In recent years, for example, funding to combat malaria has increased tenfold. Also, new drugs and vaccines are being developed that provide a much better potential for addressing challenges to health.
However, the needs are tremendous. The situation in many developing countries is dire. The question is, really, where should the focus be to have the greatest impact?
Two main areas require attention: new tools and access to health care. Appropriate ways to intervene in a cost-effective manner do not exist for many diseases. For instance, there is no vaccine—the most cost-effective way to prevent a disease—against malaria. New technologies, tools, drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics are needed to both prevent and treat diseases that affect the developing world.
Product development partnerships are one proven way to speed the development of new vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics. In these partnerships, the private and the public sectors work together to address financing issues arising from the lack of market potential, expand the pipeline of products in development, and speed the advance of those products.
We must also improve access to the tools and interventions already available. For some diseases, drugs that work actually exist but are not reaching the people who need them. Strengthening health systems—improving the distribution of and access to drugs and vaccines, and increasing the number of physicians available to treat people—is extremely important.
How can companies optimize their portfolio management?
The science of developing new drugs and new vaccines is very uncertain. Public-private partnerships center on generating both items for diseases of the developing world by bringing together the private sector’s skills and experience with public-sector and philanthropic funding.
Because the science is so risky, these partnerships need to support a whole portfolio of potential products. Management must be handled astutely and entails not investing in the candidates with the highest risk of failure while still investing in the innovative—and most beneficial—ones despite the risk of failure. It is no easy feat to determine which candidates to bring forward in the expensive clinical trials and which ones to manage out of the portfolio. Making sure portfolios are managed optimally requires much rigorous thinking by those with a great understanding of the relevant science.
What is the gap between the current funding and focus and the size of the global disease burden?
Financial support for global health initiatives has grown immensely in recent years, thanks to rising advocacy and awareness. That said, we are still far short of the numbers that can fully fund access to and rollout of all the tools available to ameliorate the needs of the developing world and to finance the ongoing development of products where there are still unmet needs. There are not enough funds to supply all the vaccines required for infants and children, or to treat those with treatable diseases, or to provide everyone with a bed net to prevent malaria. The needs are still incredibly huge.
However, there has been tremendous success in some areas. For example, in 2008 about $1.5 billion was raised to fight malaria—a very significant increase. Even so, on an annual basis about $6 billion is needed for global prevention and treatment. In almost all the disease areas, we are still far short of meeting the funding requirements, and therefore much work must still be done.
How can private-sector incentives and competencies combine with the reach of the public sector to best deliver health care?
Partnerships are really the only way to get things done in global health. There is no single organization or government that is going to meet all of the vast health challenges throughout the developing world. We need alliances between public-sector entities (such as endemic country governments, bilateral organizations, and multilateral organizations) and private-sector entities (such as nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions, companies that have capabilities to contribute—like pharmaceutical companies and consulting firms— and businesses that operate in endemic countries).
It is important to bring all these stakeholders together to make sure they understand their responsibilities, accountabilities, necessary contributions, and how they can coordinate to move in the same direction as opposed to creating confusion with contradictory programs and policies. BCG has worked extensively on partnership effectiveness. We have worked with the product development partnerships that are striving to develop the needed new tools and within the large advocacy and convening partnerships—like Roll Back Malaria and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS)—that serve to coordinate many activities throughout the developing world.