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UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose

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Rethinking health innovation

IIPP will research the ways health innovation can be more mission-oriented to realise major advances in areas of unmet health need, as well as accessibility for patients and populations.

Rethinking health innovation Tai Chi
  • Is the current health innovation model able to make much needed breakthroughs in tackling major public health challenges?
  • How can health innovation move from 'me-too' medicines to major breakthroughs in areas like antibiotic resistance?
  • What role should public and private actors play in the health innovation model?
  • What kind of patient finance is available for long-term research into potential therapeutic advances?
  • How can public and private actors better share both risks and rewards?

IIPP’s work on health focuses on the challenges of existing models of innovation and investigating alternative pathways for sustainable and equitable advances. For all the large sums of public and private money invested in research and development, there are concerns about the pharmaceutical-focused, private, profit and patent-driven model of innovation that currently dominates.

Beyond limited success stories based on particular drugs and disease areas, the current model too often fails to meet critical health needs, secure sufficient therapeutic advance, or offer good value for money.

In our research, we are concerned not only with the rate of innovation, but also the directions that health innovation takes. Are actors in the innovation process directed at incremental advances and ‘me-too medicines’, or at breakthroughs for major public health challenges such as antibiotic resistance, aging and dementia related disease, cancers, and ‘neglected diseases’? In examining the directions that innovation currently takes (or does not take), we are interested in the division of innovative labor between public and private actors. For example, health innovation has historically required long-term, risk-taking public investment (i.e. the NIH in the U.S.) but has also been shaped by shareholder-driven financial markets that require gains in time horizons far shorter than the typical time it takes to develop therapeutic advances.

We thus also explore the distribution of risks and rewards between these public and private actors that prevailing and potential models for health innovation produce, and their consequences for sustainable innovation and affordability for health systems and patients. Performing this research requires using historical data and case studies to understand different pathways of innovation that have unfolded across an array of health challenges and translating this research into lessons for the future.

To carry out this work, we are currently building a team of researchers working with Mariana Mazzucato, including Dr. Victor Roy, whose work has focused on the financialization of health innovation.

Current projects

Rethinking the economics of medical innovation

IIPP is researching alternatives to shareholder-dominated models of medical innovation that could achieve better outcomes for innovation, affordability and access for patients. We are launching a new project (2017-2019) with Open Society Foundations to study existing and potential alternative innovation models for health. Read more.

Research publications

Rethinking Value in Health Innovation: from mystifications towards prescriptions
Working Paper
Ref: IIPP WP 2017-04

The people's prescription: Re-imagining health innovation to deliver public value
Policy Report
Ref: IIPP WP 2018-10

Further reading

Mariana Mazzucato and Els Toreele (2016), “Fair vaccine pricing please, not random acts of charity”, British Medical Journal.

Mariana Mazzucato (2016), “High cost of new drugs”, British Medical Journal.

Victor Roy, Victor and Lawrence King (2016), “Betting on Hepatitis C: How Financial Speculation in Drug Development Influences Access to Medicines”, British Medical Journal.

Victor Roy, David Chokshi, Stephen Kissler, and Prabhjot Singh (2016), “Making Hepatitis C a Rare Disease in the United States”, Health Affairs.

Mariana Mazzucato (2016), Submission to the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Access to Medicines.

Demirel, P. and Mazzucato, M. (2010), “The Evolution of Firm Growth Dynamics in the US Pharmaceutical Industry”, Regional Studies, Volume 44, Issue 8.

Mazzucato, M. and G. Dosi (Eds. 2006) “Knowledge Accumulation and Industry Evolution: Pharma-Biotech”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK ISBN 0-521-85822-4