Realizing the full potential of pharmaceutical industry partnerships

Successful partnerships between pharmaceutical companies and global health organizations have been increasing access to medicines and vaccines since the 1970s. From early partnerships in the Expanded Program on Immunization, to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and Access Accelerated the research-based pharmaceutical industry, which spends over $149 billion on research and development (R&D) every year, has an important role to play in global health.

Over the last 50 years the pharmaceutical industry has learned that global health is about more than just medicines and vaccines, and with the integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals, public-private partnerships are increasingly important. According to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, the industry understands that global health requires building and supporting strong health systems, developing public health education and strengthening standards and regulations. This is why in 2018, 17 out of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies (accounting for 70 percent of global pharmaceutical revenues) developed a business strategy, supported by goals and targets, to address access to medicines in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs), according to an Access to Medicine Foundation report

Good, but not good enough

However, much of the increased access to medicines has been made by a small percentage of pharmaceutical companies, and has overwhelmingly been focused on a handful of diseases. Of the 20 companies assessed by the Access to Medicine Foundation report, five companies (GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck KGaA, Novartis and Sanofi) were found to be conducting 63 percent of R&D on products urgently needed by people in LMICS; and nearly all of the R&D from these companies was focused on five diseases: malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. 

While overall, pharmaceutical companies are entering LMIC markets, the industry still puts profits first.  Between 2008 and 2018 more medicines for profitable non-communicable diseases were developed for people in high-income countries, than medicines for diseases of poverty. Additionally, only four out of 20 pharmaceutical companies supported international trade agreements designed to ensure the world’s poor benefit from innovative medicines and vaccines. 

Closing the gaps

Public perception does matter to the pharmaceutical industry. According to the Reputation Institute, between 2017 and 2018 the pharmaceutical industry saw a 3.7 percent decline in its reputation score, and overall the industry had a significant decline in the public’s perception of industry transparency, openness and authenticity. The decline of public trust and confidence in the industry has also led to a decline in the public’s willingness to buy by eight percent between 2017 and 2018. One way to improve company reputation is through global health partnerships, and with recent negative media attention on the industry, between the opioid epidemic and price-fixing drugs, it is no secret that the industry could use a reputation boost.

So how can the global health community capitalize on this? The Access to Medicines Foundation has an effective recipe for engaging pharmaceutical companies in global health: one, setting clear priorities endorsed by global health experts; two, advocating for publicly funded mechanisms to reduce investment risk and shape less profitable markets; and three, finding sustainable funding support from multiple donors, including the government. One example of a mutually beneficial partnership is GAVI, which used pooled procurement mechanisms to encourage pharmaceutical companies to enter fragile markets in LMICs to strengthen the global vaccine market. 

In 2018 the reputation scores for the top 22 pharmaceutical companies were made public, creating an opportunity for global health organizations to engage poorly ranked companies. Global pharmaceutical sales are expected to reach over $1 trillion by 2022, so resources for global health partnerships are abundant, and organizations should consider targeting partnerships with companies impacted by negative public perception; turning a bad reputation into increased affordable access to life-saving medications. 


Building Global Health Funding Opportunities

By Amanda Pain

Sustainable funding in global health is often a rallying cry among practitioners. A consistent funding stream can make or break the effectiveness of a global health program, but this funding can be hard to come by. The need for additional funding for global health, especially in regards to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, is great. In fact, researchers estimate an additional $371 million per year is needed to achieve SDG 3 by 2030 in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). Overall funding for global health has plateaued since 2010, and changing political landscapes and priorities can make government funding ephemeral. With the current Trump administration’s proposed cuts to global health funding, organizations need to look for new funding streams.

Historically, the private sector has always played a role in funding global health initiatives. Private sector funding can not only offer more consistent funding for a program, but can also be more flexible in adapting programs to meet community specific needs in LMICs. Corporations also know that giving back to communities, and developing philanthropic endeavors, is good for business. While there are several private sector funders, many corporations are looking for non-profits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have missions that align with company culture; and at times competition for these funding sources can be fierce. Therefore, looking beyond existing corporate funders to growing companies with nascent, or undeveloped philanthropy programs, presents global health organizations with a opportunity to secure sustainable funding, and assist in creating a corporate philanthropy program from scratch.

How can organizations find these successful growing companies?

Companies today have been waiting longer to announce an I.P.O. (initial public offering), sometimes waiting for Series F or G rounds of funding before going public. However, once a company receives Series C funding from venture capitalists and investors it is considered to be growing successfully, as well as making a profit. Additionally, after eBay set aside funds for charitable giving in 1998 before going public this became a growing trend in the tech industry. This means global health organizations do not necessarily have to wait until a company goes public before reaching out to partner on potential philanthropy initiatives. One example of a tech company partnering with global health organizations is the Tableau Foundation, which aims to make the world a better place with data. 

Of course organizations want to seek out companies where a potential partnership can be mutually beneficial, therefore identifying growing companies and understanding the business platform will be necessary before pitching ideas for philanthropic endeavors. is a platform that analyzes start-ups to help investors identify successful companies. Another resource is Gartner annual vendor ratings that showcase company strengths. Global health organizations can use these resources to identify viable companies as potential sustainable funders.  

While investigating growing companies will require staff time and resources the potential for a sustainable partnership with the private sector is worth the effort. Helping design a company’s philanthropic programs is an opportunity for global health organizations to build funding opportunities that are flexible and consistent, rather than trying to morph organizational mission and goals into the prescribed priorities of current funders.