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This debate pack is prepared for a general debate on research and development on tackling infectious diseases. The debate will be led by Virendra Sharma, Jeremy Lefroy and Stephen Doughty. 

In his application to the Backbench Business Committee, Mr Sharma said that the debate would give Members an opportunity to talk about a wide range of issues relating to infectious diseases. These included, ensuring access to new and existing medicines, investing in research and development of new medicines, diagnostics and vaccines, and the Government approach to tackling antimicrobial resistance. 

The UK Government invests in the research and development to tackle infectious diseases in a number of ways. These include:

  • The Medical Research Council, provides grants and career awards to scientists in UK universities and hospitals;
  • The Ross Fund was created for research and development in products for infectious diseases, particularly tackling anti-microbial resistance, diseases with epidemic potential such as Ebola, and neglected tropical diseases. It includes £350 million allocated for the delivery of new products including vaccines, drugs and diagnostics;
  • The Global Challenges Research fund, which aims to “ensure UK science takes the lead in addressing the problems faced by developing countries”[1]. In December 2016, the first phase of awards for health research were announced. These focused on two areas- non-communicable diseases and infection; and
  • The Government has committed £120 million to aid the development of new vaccines between 2016 and 2021[2]. The Department of Health, through the UK Vaccine Network, are currently funding 26 projects at a cost of £23 million.[3]

The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines

In November 2015, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon appointed a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines. The panel were tasked with assessing the evidence on access to medicines globally and provide recommendations to promote the development and production of health technologies in a way that balances trade, human rights and public health.

The panel’s final report was published on 14 September 2016. It stated that new approaches were required to ensure access to medicines and encourage innovation to improve health worldwide and reduce inequality. Numerous recommendations were made to governments, multilateral organisations, and private sector companies.[4]

In response to a Parliamentary question in December 2016, James Wharton, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, stated that DFID supported the aims of the panel’s recommendations but noted a lack of consensus from the panel, and that the World Health Organisation had developed a strategy in this area:

DFID supports the aims of the UN High Level Panel on Access to Medicines, but we note that this panel of experts could not reach consensus. The World Health Organisation has analysed the barriers that limit access to medicines, and developed a Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property. It is, therefore, well-placed to consider, with partners, which of the Panel’s recommendations add value.[5]

The development of the World Health Organisation (WHO) global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property followed a resolution at the World Health Assembly in 2008. Through the strategy the WHO plays a role in improving access to medicines, driving innovation and encouraging research into diseases which disproportionately affect those in developing countries.[6]

The WHO has also developed the R&D Blueprint, a global strategy to allow the rapid activation of research and development to respond to epidemics. 

[1]     UK Aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest, HM Treasury/DFID, November 2015.

[2]     UK Vaccine Network, GOV.UK

[3]     Projects currently being funded by the Department of Health through the UK Vaccine Network, 8 February 2017.

[4]     Report of The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines, 14 September 2016.

[5]     PQ55942 [UN High-level Panel on Access to Medicines], 6 December 2016.

[6]     WHO, The Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property

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