One of the main global health disparities occurs in the field of pharmaceutical research on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and it is referred to as the “10/90 gap”: only 10% of world expenditure on health R&D is spent on health conditions that represent 90% of the global burden. As Aura Bertoni (Department of Legal Studies) points out in her recent article Research and ‘Development as Freedom’ – Improving Democracy and Effectiveness in Pharmaceutical Innovation for Neglected Tropical Diseases, published in the International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law (IIC), no. 7/2012, such situation is also consequence of the failure – both economic and moral – of patent law in this field. Bertoni, therefore, suggests that also other innovation institutions should be exploited; among them, in particular, private-public partnerships (PPPs) seem to be one of the most promising mixes of incentives for research and development (R&D), even if they are not problem-free zones either.
In her article, Bertoni looks at the traditional, patent-based approach to R&D according to a re-posed instrumental role of intellectual property inspired by the social relation theory of property and maintaining that intellectual property rights should serve human values, as well as private interests. As a result, Bertoni argues that the protection of human rights, besides its intrinsic moral value, provides essential conditions for human development, since innovations goods cannot produce economic value until appropriate conditions for their fruition are created.
The article in discussion, then, reports how the research-gap on NTDs in recent years deserved the intervention of many national and international public organizations and how various systems of incentives have been designed as alternatives to patents.
In this context, private-public partnerships operate as non-profit organizations adopting business-like management strategies and are regarded as the most promising instrument to face the burden of NTDs. The fact that, in the recent past, the size of financial interventions endorsed by private funding organization dramatically increased, of course, attracted much attention and caused concerns, particularly as regards their lack of transparency in grant-making programs and the policy leverage that their financial power brings.
Therefore, Bertoni suggests that the new version of instrumentalism developed for intellectual property should be extended to other incentives alternative to intellectual property. Accordingly, Bertoni maintains that PPPs should undergo a “cultural analysis” pursuant to the human-development-oriented instrumentalism and, among other things, suggests that they should be designed to enhance the levels of innovation distribution.