Pulling Together Innovation, Access and Investment


On April 19-20, 2012 the first Global Health Commercialization & Funding Roundtable was held at the University of Cambridge, UK.  The Roundtable brought together global health entrepreneurs (from both developed and developing countries), investors/funders, civil society, member state representatives and academia to explore business models in discovery, development and delivery of global health innovations.  The idea for this Roundtable stemmed from the desire to match global health conversations in innovation and access with the resource providers (investors/funders) who invest in innovation development from R&D to delivery.

Figure 1: The innovation value chain applied to healthcare[1]

The roundtable examined current partnerships between resource providers and entrepreneurs and explored the dynamics of these relationships.  In the context of tuberculosis, a major global health issue, the roundtable shared best practices in business models and promising innovations relating to vaccines, pharmaceuticals and diagnostic technologies.  The keynote address, given by Dr. Ellen Strahlman, global head of neglected tropical diseases for GlaxoSmithKline, offered insights into investing in diseases of poverty, including tuberculosis, and benefiting the global community while pursuing excellence as a company. During the five conference panels, different funding models were explored and challenges for attracting funding and engagement on tuberculosis were identified.

The roundtable conference program can be found here, and all podcasts available from conference website.

The roundtable featured five panels to discuss global health innovation, with a focus on TB.  The first panel brought together traditional funders and grant-giving organizations for tuberculosis R&D with new philanthropic investors, private equity funds and impact investors to discuss funding criteria throughout the commercialization process.  There is a growing recognition that private-sector investments in the life-sciences should maximize both financial and social impact.  The difficult question to answer is how to fund along the innovation value chain? The following panels and entrepreneurs discussed various business models in action.

The second panel featured social entrepreneur Operation ASHA using social-franchising in partnership with the Indian government to effectively deliver DOTS therapy.  Sitting together on the same panel, the social entrepreneur and one of its funders discussed innovative uses of both grants and rolling working capital loans to help the organization achieve its set objectives in TB care.  Resource providers are now equipped with additional investment tools to work with.  The third panel discussed risk-mitigating business models in TB vaccines using joint ventures and government partnerships.  The fourth panel highlighted academic entrepreneurship from university laboratories and their collaborative funding partners.  The final and fifth panel featured TB diagnostic experts sharing their R&D activities to date and forecasting future growth to meet unmet medical need.

This gathering of diverse organizations and individuals illustrated the importance of innovative financing for global health for all participants involved in the ecosystem. It is clear from the roundtable that global health entrepreneurs do not operate in silos and partnerships form an integral part of advancing forward in the innovation value chain. What are your thoughts? Do you believe there is room within the global health innovation chain for both grants and investments? Are there appropriate points along the chain more suited for one type of funding instrument over another? What are the best types of resources that can support global health entrepreneurs reconciling innovation and access?

Julia Fan Li

[1] Hansen, M., & Birkinshaw, J. (2007). The innovation value chain. Harvard Business Review, 85(6), 121-130.

Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, I. a. P. H. (2006). Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property Rights Geneva: World Health Organization.

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