Spirit of ad-venture shown by charities in funding drug research or a sign of desperate times?

From The Economist in New York, a short but interesting piece on the growing collaboration between charities, pharmaceutical and biotech companies in the US to bring new drugs to market.  More specifically it looks at the ‘venture philanthropy’ model being adopted by charities there to support clinical trials.  I’m not quite sure I’d characterise it as the ‘desparate’ lunge that the journal suggests, more an evolution in behaviour engendered by many factors; austerity and costs are just two.  It is also a quite deliberate and strategic move to foster innovation on their part.

We are seeing the same pattern emerge here in the UK.  In just the past month we have seen our two largest medical research charities both announce ‘venture philanthropy-like’ initiatives – Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust - to boost drug development and fill the ‘translational gap’ as it is often termed.  ['Scope' have also announced something similar in the disability area.]

This is on top of what UK medical research charities are already doing to support clinical trials. If you want to understand more about venture philanthropy you might want to look at PhilanthropyUK’s website and this article in particular which talks about some of the areas in which venture philanthropy activity is growing – medical research being one of them.

The brute reality though is that I think this is a strategy really only viable for the larger charities who have the funds to invest.  But I would be interested to know whether the criteria they are adopting for investment decisions encompass the possibility of putting money into ideas being generated by other charities who do not have the scale to take them further?  I don’t see why not.  That could be a potentially important stimulant to greater collaboration between charities.  Or perhaps I have just got the wrong end of the stick, although surely it’s about investing in, rather than the provenance of, the idea.

Meanwhile PatientView has published the latest in its surveys of global patient group opinion about industry – this time it’s the turn of medical devices companies to come under the spotlight. In reputational terms, this sector within industry comes ahead of pharmaceuticals and biotechs in how well they are rated generally, but share the same dismal record in terms of ethical marketing.

This ahead of the annual conference of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) in London later this week entitled ‘Can we afford innovation in medicine?’

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