Public-private partnerships: Where have we been and where do we go?

In this guest post, Claire Wingfield—product development policy officer at PATH—writes about a series of dialogues PATH and other partners convened to discuss public-private partnerships for global health product development. PATH recently released a report outlining the key themes and recommendations identified during the three policy dialogues.

Last year PATH hosted a series of dialogues in Washington, DC, London, and Brussels to highlight the role that public-private partnerships play in driving the development and introduction of new and innovative global health technologies. The aim of these discussions was to examine how the private, public, philanthropic, and nonprofit sectors are working together to address the health needs of low- and middle-income countries, and how these partnerships can evolve to sustain progress made during the past decade and better leverage limited resources in the future.

From left to right: Gianpietro van de Goor, European Commission; Cecile Vernant, DSW Head of EU advocacy; Ole Olesen, EDCTP; MEP Maria da Graça Carvahlo; François Bompart, Sanofi; Claire Wingfield, PATH; Maite Suarez, IAVI. Photo credit: DSW

Participants at the Brussels dialogue (from left to right): Gianpietro van de Goor, European Commission; Cecile Vernant, DSW Head of EU advocacy; Ole Olesen, EDCTP; MEP Maria da Graça Carvahlo; François Bompart, Sanofi; Claire Wingfield, PATH; Maite Suarez, IAVI. Photo credit: DSW

Representatives from the US and European governments, nongovernmental organizations, philanthropies, and the private sector shared lessons learned, challenges, and why they see multi-sector partnerships as the most efficient means for accelerating research and development (R&D) targeting poverty-related and neglected diseases and conditions. At the event in DC—co-hosted by PATH and the Clinton Global Health Initiative in March—participants discussed ways to incentivize private-sector contributions to global health R&D, and leverage public-sector investment. The second dialogue took place in London in June and focused on the successes and challenges of public-private partnerships, and the important (and often unique) role that nonprofit product development organizations like PATH play in bridging the gap between partners and managing a complex portfolio. The third and final meeting, co-convened by PATH and Deutsch Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW)—a German NGO leading R&D advocacy efforts targeting the European Union—was held in Brussels in October, and participants reinforced the need for European governments to strengthen their investments in global health R&D.

The key themes of the dialogues were:

  • Innovative partnerships accelerate product development by bringing together the public and private sectors. Multi-sector partnerships can play an important role to address complex global health challenges. The business of health technology development changes quickly, and innovative, flexible models of collaboration for partnership are essential to ensure success.
  • A comprehensive planning model that accounts for regulatory pathways, procurement, and distribution while products are still in development is necessary to speed product uptake. An important first step to a successful public-private partnership is ensuring the goals and strengths of each partner align. At the start of a project, partners must begin planning for both the product’s development and introduction.
  • The markets of low- and middle-income countries represent tremendous growth opportunities and long-term sustainability for the private sector. By tapping into the burgeoning manufacturing capacity and knowledge economies of these and other low- and middle-income countries, public-private partnerships could better contain costs and support the efforts of government donors and funders that are prioritizing broader international development and economic growth over specific health outcomes.
  • Product development for global health works best, fastest, and most efficiently when undertaken as part of a portfolio model in which partners coordinate R&D activities across a range of products at different stages of development.

Because the perceived financial risks are often too high relative to the potential economic returns, and the scientific challenges are daunting for many of these diseases and conditions, it is impossible to rely solely on one organization or sector to meet the health needs of low- and middle-income countries. Therefore governments, academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, and private companies in high-, middle-, and low-income countries have—and must continue to) come together to share risk, leverage expertise, and maximize impact. These partnerships are an efficient and sustainable model for conducting global health R&D, and their impact can increase with flexible funding and business models, collaborations with nontraditional partners, and in close collaboration with governments and professionals in low- and middle-income countries.

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