An opportunity

A physician has an idea  for a new treatment for her patients

New ideas on how to treat diseases need to be researched, to know if it actually works, if it is safe for patients, how much they need to take and many other aspects. This requires salaries and material for the job.

The way funding is allocated in medical research is by competitions.

First, funders determine their budget and how many projects they want or are able. Then they determine with the help of experts their agenda and hence their priorities.

She needs to research it to know if it will work and if it will be safe for them. Is it going to be well tolerated?

How to make the treatment, What dosage should be given?

After defining what research would be needed to have this new treatment available for patients, she calculates the costs. Now, she needs to find the money.

She can get funded by government money, charities' money and the pharmaceutical industry.

They start by verifying if the idea is good: is it going to help patients.

If they feel it will help them, they continue assessing the project, this time checking what happens if the research is successful. Is the pharmaceutical industry going to buy it and care for the steps needed to bring it to the market?

Next they inform researchers and invite them to compete for the grants.

They designate experts to evaluate the competing projects and select the winners. When analysing the projects, they start with their medical value and scientific quality. If the value and quality aren't to their satisfaction, the project is rejected. But if the project is valuable medically and of good scientific quality, how do they detemine the winners?

When funding medical research, it is important to manage your budgets in a rational way. Generally speaking early stage research is cheaper' than later stage, with the biggest budgets for the final proof that it is safe and it works, to get authorised for use by patients. It is generally believe that budgets at that stage are so big that they can be spent only by the pharmaceutical industry. There is therefore a sort of split of responsibilities between public funders and the industry, where government and charities focus on early stage and industry on later stage.

 To make sure that the industry gets projects to fund, government and third sector funders prioritise projects with a potential for patents, which is the first criteria to make a product significantly profitable.

Many times, projects won't have any potential for patents, as they are thought for medical benefits.- and they get shelved.

If it will, the answer is yes and she will get the money to run the research

If it doesn't, the idea will be forgotten

It follows that there is a huge number of shelves in this world holding ideas for treatments, that are valuable medically, of good scientific quality and maybe addressing a disease that is not yet treatable. This matter is no secret and is by the way not limited to not patentable projects. Molecules can be shelved because they appeared to be too toxic for what they were meant to treat. A chemotherapy is too toxic to treat the flu but is fit to treat cancer. Sometimes they can be shelves because the pharmaceutical company changed strategy. It can be molecules that are still under patent protection but many involve generic molecules.

Likewise, projects involving natural substances in the public domain such as food supplements or involving physical exercise will also struggle to find funding. Still, they could all deliver valuable and much-needed treatment solutions

 

The solution

To fund the research cost, the researcher needs in addition to the traditional funders another player that sees a benefit in funding non-patentable research. This player is me, you, the public. 

Let's assume that research projects that get approved end up delivering about 25 new drugs to the market every year (https://www.fda.gov/downloads/aboutfda/transparency/basics/ucm247465.pdf), if there was an additional funding mechanism, next to the existing one, it would deliver its own output (be it new drugs, disease treatments based on food supplement, exercise interventions, old drugs...) and we could probably double progress in a very short time.

Medical research belongs and your beloved ones. For the first time, you have means to influence its agenda. You can work to ensure you and your beloved ones have solutions when the time comes and these solutions are accessible.

Examples

Riboflavine or vitamin B2 at high dose prevents migraine attacks 

 

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