Extending the Innovation Pipeline to Africa’s Patients

By Patrick Kilbride
July 13, 2021

“Undergirded by intellectual property protections, the private sector spent decades performing cutting-edge virology research. In many cases, some of the most-important new technologies and approaches were yet untested—with no proven clinical application until the COVID-19 virus became front-page news.”

innovation - https://depositphotos.com/3290667/stock-photo-light-bulb.htmlWith summer underway in the United States, we want to believe the global pandemic is ending. In many cities, restaurants are at near-full capacity, scaled-back festivals are taking place, and companies are preparing to gradually welcome workers back into the office.

Meanwhile, other cities around the world haven’t been as lucky. Flashpoints across India continue to fuel that country’s spike in COVID-19 cases while residents of Tokyo, with their low vaccination rates, nervously await the Summer Olympic Games this August. The African continent is experiencing a multi-variant and potentially devastating resurgence of cases.

Success Depends on Innovation Investment

Despite these challenges, we are slowly making progress to vaccinate the world and defeat the global pandemic. By the end of this year, for instance, industry estimates that 11 billion doses of various COVID-19 vaccines are on track to be produced—a historic milestone and incredible achievement less than two years into the pandemic. Meanwhile, work continues to ensure that treatments, oxygen tanks, personal protection equipment, and other critical life-saving materials are available to those who need them.

Our growing arsenal of vaccines and new medicines is built on a single cornerstone: decades of investment across sectors to create an innovation pipeline that allowed scientists, researchers, and others to study the components of viruses. Undergirded by intellectual property protections, the private sector spent decades performing cutting-edge virology research. In many cases, some of the most-important new technologies and approaches were yet untested—with no proven clinical application until the COVID-19 virus became front-page news.

This innovation pipeline helped prepare us for this pandemic—and it also helps shed light on how we can approach solutions to tackle other public health challenges, particularly for chronic diseases.

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Addressing Cancer in Africa

Although cancer is a well-known condition in the West, it is a growing concern across the developing world, from sub-Saharan Africa to Latin America and Southeast Asia. According to the World Health Organization, the rate of cancer cases is set to rise by 70% over the next two decades; and right now, 70% of cancer deaths are in low to middle-income countries. But despite the growing need, many governments remain unprepared and unequipped to address the problem. Not to mention increase access to innovative products for patients in need.

To help address this trend, BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH) has led the African Access Initiative (AAI), a multi-year effort to address the cancer crisis in African countries through comprehensive treatment assessments, the training of doctors and specialists, and the strategic use of intellectual property assets.

Since 2017, AAI has spearheaded this approach with governments, innovative biopharmaceutical companies, and public health advocates to treat thousands of cancer patients in the region. Oftentimes, the barriers are steep, from the lack of trained specialists to insufficient health infrastructure and low awareness of the dangers of cancer. Even then, many of the most cutting-edge cancer treatments are not available in Africa—either through complex government policies or patients’ inability to pay. With so many challenges, a comprehensive response is needed. That’s where AAI comes in.

By working with African governments and national healthcare leaders, AAI is able to leverage its expertise to do the most good. It all starts with a “Hospital Needs Assessment”—collaboratively assessing a hospital network’s needs and mapping out a comprehensive strategy in partnership with their government. Then, working with local universities and global experts, BVGH sets to work training doctors, nurses, and specialists, helping to improve patient outcomes. In 2020 alone, AAI’s Virtual Training Series has trained more than 1,000 doctors in 25 countries—with a particular focus on less-known cancers like prostate, gastrointestinal, and others.

Helping Companies to Manage Risk

Finally, BVGH works side-by-side with innovative biopharmaceutical companies to map every critical step along the procurement and delivery path including managing registration, customs clearance, supply chain challenges from Port to Patient—not to mention monitoring and reporting on the number of patients benefiting. This process is complex and plagued by multiple points of uncertainty and risk. BVGH manages each point of critical exchange resulting in every cancer drug shipment reaching its intended point of delivery.

With BVGH’s support, companies can confidently license the most cutting-edge cancer treatments in sub-Saharan Africa resulting in African demand-driven and sustainable results. And through the African Consortium for Cancer Clinical Trials (AC3T), AAI is flipping the narrative on research decision making and promoting the capacities and priorities of oncologists in Africa. AC3T studies are starting and a mini-grant initiative is seeding the development of studies driven by the questions of Africans. The AC3T platform enables the expansion of clinical trials and helps to ensure that innovative biopharmaceuticals are tailor-made for patients on the continent.

Taken together, these workstreams will go a long way in fighting the cancer epidemic across Africa. Fortunately, we are that much closer.

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The Author

Patrick Kilbride

Patrick Kilbride is vice president of international intellectual property for the Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Kilbride oversees the center’s multilateral and international programs promoting the protection and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights, managing a team of country and regional experts. Previously, Kilbride was Executive Director, Americas Strategic Policy Initiatives, and Executive Vice President, Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA), within the Chamber’s International Division. Prior to joining the U.S. Chamber, Kilbride was appointed to serve in the Bush administration as deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for Intergovernmental Affairs & Public Liaison. At USTR, Kilbride worked with state and local officials, business organizations, and non-governmental organizations to advance the President’s trade policy agenda; he served as USTR liaison to the network of industry trade advisory committees (ITACs), as well as the President’s Export Council; and, he was part of a White House-led, inter-agency team that coordinated efforts to secure congressional approval of pending U.S. free trade agreements.

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