Ebola, neglected diseases, and how to fix the medicines R&D system.

Recently, Al Jazeera interviewed me about the dearth of drug development for Ebola treatments. It comes down to the fact that patients suffering from Ebola live in the poorest countries in the world. As a result, they don’t represent a market that is interesting to pharmaceutical companies who are used to a blockbuster model of drug development which aims for sales of at least $1 billion per year.

We’ve seen a rush to develop drugs for Ebola now that it’s shown up in rich countries – evidence of the deeply unjust system we’ve created.

How do we fix the system? Prizes. I’ll write more about prizes another time, but the short version is that rather than a patent monopoly to drive innovation, we could offer large cash prizes based on the health impact of a new drug. The greater the health impact, the greater the proportion of the prize you receive. In exchange for the prize, the developer would immediately allow affordable generic versions of the medicine to be sold.


  1. Patrick Hazelton says:

    Very interesting! Who is the “we” who will offer cash prizes? Has this been done before or is this a new concept? How large would the prizes have to be to entice organizations to invest in research & development?

    • ethanguillen@gmail.com says:

      Hi Patrick – very sorry for the delay in responding (still figuring out the system). I started to write a response, and suddenly it’s become a new blog post. So I’ll finish that to answer your excellent question.

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