UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


Health innovation


Supported by the Open Society Foundations, the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP)'s work on health innovation examines the notions of common good and public value in the biopharmaceutical sector through an alternative, mission-oriented approach that would transform the status quo. 

While health innovation has received an enormous amount of global public and philanthropic funding, the existing biopharmaceutical innovation system, which is characterised by entrenched short-termism and striking misalignment with public interest, has at least four major problems. Firstly, companies prioritise R&D that is likely to deliver “blockbuster drugs” at the expense of commercially unappealing medicines that are hugely important to public health. Secondly, patents are often abused, being too upstream, wide, and strong, leading to high prices and lack of knowledge sharing and collaboration. Thirdly, the pricing of these medicines does not take into account the contribution by other actors, including public institutions. Fourthly, high prices are driven by – and in turn fuel – the financialisation of parts of the industry, where share buybacks are outpacing R&D.


The people's prescription: Re-imagining health innovation to deliver public value report
Our flagship report The people's prescription: Re-imagining health innovation to deliver public value, sought to diagnose these problems systematically, and provide practice-based policy proposals to enable a mission-oriented biopharmaceutical innovation system that outlines a wholistic view of market co-shaping and co-creation in innovation by the public and private sectors, and the fair and equitable distribution of risks and rewards that fundamentally addresses problems in the key areas highlighted above: 
  • The direction of innovation towards public health; 
  • The governance of innovation, such as the intellectual property rights, for collective intelligence; 
  • The accessibility of the innovation (e.g. the underlying pricing mechanisms) to enable diffusion; 
  • The financing of the innovation system aligned with sustainable, long-term goals. 

A key focus across these areas concerns how public-private relationships in the innovation ecosystem can be better governed in the public interest, and to reflect the critical role of the public sector. 

Policy implications

IIPP’s work in health has been translated into global policy impact. In the times of COVID-19, the problems with the current health innovation system have become much more poignant and exposed; at the same time, the pivotal role of the public sector is much accentuated, with the magnitude of public investment having multiplied and gone global. In response, IIPP has set up a COVID-19 Taskforce to apply its thinking in addressing the economic and health challenges brought by the crisis. 

Learn more about IIPP health innovation policy impact



Further reading

Academic working papers
Journal articles, editorials and book chapters

IIPP news stories

News stories and blogs


Open Society Foundation