Bringing Clarity to the Jargon

January 3, 2013 | Posted by Guest in Research |

This is a guest post from Aarthi Rao and Soma Ghoshal, program officers at the Center for Global Health R&D Policy Assessment

In the health R&D space, we are bombarded with jargon. When discussing collaborative approaches to health R&D, it is even more difficult to decipher tough terms. What’s the difference between open source and crowdsourcing? Are open and humanitarian licenses the same? How does open access work?

Beyond knowing the terms, it’s important for researchers and product developers to understand what value collaborative R&D approaches can add and how they differ. Sometimes posting a question online might just help you solve the problem you’ve been struggling with for months. Other times, it might make more sense to simply hire a top expert to tackle it for you.

To help bring precision to the language of collaborative health R&D and to layout different considerations around the various models of collaboration, we at the Center for Global Health R&D Policy Assessment just launched a simple web-based primer that organizes these concepts.

Center for Global Health R&D Policy Assessment

The Center for Global Health R&D Policy Assessment assesses new policy and financing ideas that have been put forward to advance the development of drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics for neglected diseases.

We’ve always felt that collaborative approaches to R&D could be a powerful tool for developing products for neglected disease. One of our earlier policy reports, “Open Source for Neglected Diseases: Magic Bullet or Mirage?”, explored the potential of open source models in health R&D and discussed how they depart from their IT predecessors.  The authors also laid out practical steps for moving the global health community toward a knowledge commons for neglected disease R&D. The report was well received, but it was clear that open source was just one part of a much larger picture.

Collaborative Health R&D Primer

Our new Collaborative Health R&D Primer builds upon this initial work and takes a broader look at collaborative approaches to health innovation. It aims to clarify the approaches to collaborative health R&D, review important considerations for each model, and highlight opportunities for moving the collaborative health R&D field forward.

It’s designed for scientists, product developers, funders, and the policy community, and the best way to experience the primer is to browse through its contents and find the opportunities and programs that are most relevant to you. It organizes existing models into tactics and tools for collaborative health R&D. It further differentiates them by whether they represent fully open collaboration or more targeted controlled collaboration. If one of the models catches your eye and feels promising for your own work, take a look at our “Questions to Consider.” These questions point out important considerations for anyone interested in adopting a particular approach.

This primer isn’t just for those carrying out R&D—it’s also designed to inform policymakers and funders. If you are interested in helping to grow the collaborative R&D field, our “Opportunities” page showcases how funders, scientists and the policy community can help scale up and strengthen collaborative R&D for health.

Here are ten of these opportunities to ponder—opportunities that we feel are feasible, not yet popular, and potentially catalytic.

Opportunities as a Health R&D Funder:

  1. Adopt open collaboration policies and expand data sharing requirements for grantees. Fund the needed supporting infrastructure, including dedicated collaboration managers. (Example: Matt Todd interview.)
  2. Start a demand-driven website to focus discussion currently occurring in many disparate forums, and to seed connections among experts and enthusiasts. Incorporate a group blog on collaborative health R&D, where the contributors are respected and insightful insiders in the community. (Example: NextBillion.)
  3. Establish buy-in and joint commitments of high-profile leaders and institutions for initiatives tackling a well-defined set of collaborative R&D challenges. (Example: Grand Challenges in Global Health.)

Opportunities as a Scientist or Product Developer:

  1. Start an online Q&A site specialized to collaborative health R&D. (Example: Stack Exchange.)
  2. Devise better ways of dividing complex health R&D problems into manageable subproblems in order to enable the kind of mass-collaborative approach that has worked in many online systems. (Example: Gene Wiki.)
  3. With engagement from industry, science, and funding stakeholders, advance a new networked initiative for pre-competitive collaboration to create new preventive and therapeutic health solutions. Incorporate realistic incentives for diverse parties to collaborate, including pharmaceutical companies, PDPs, research consortia, and individual scientists – and design this collaboration to result in new health solutions developed with less time and cost. (Example: Aled Edwards interview.)
  4. Estimate benefits of collaborative health R&D for reducing risk, cost, and duplication of research and clinical trials. (Example: Arch2POCM Business Model.)

Opportunities as a Policy Maker or Researcher:

  1. Provide a detailed profiling platform of collaborative initiatives for health R&D, summarizing which initiatives are active, what types of collaborators they are seeking, and what they and previous projects have achieved. Include a matchmaking service for scientists, funders, and citizens who are seeking to contribute to a collaborative initiative. (Example: Center for Health Market Innovations.)
  2. Build a widely-used information utility that measures one’s achievement as part of a collaboration, thus providing more incentives to participate. Incorporate metrics which recognize collaboration, engagement, and impact, and which provide professional value for contributions to collaborative initiatives—for example, to allow aggregating one’s contributions into a cumulative “score” for use with granting agencies and promotion committees, similar to how publication metrics are used today. (Example: Leslie Chan interview.)
  3. With strong engagement from end users, draw together research and practice to develop an accessible, periodically-updated, and practical collaborative health R&D toolkit or handbook – one suggesting where and how to apply particular collaborative approaches. (Example: IP Handbook.)

Although the Primer is in its pilot stages, we hope it is a useful and practical tool for those interested in collaborative R&D. In addition, the Primer is looking for an organization that wishes to evolve the site and transform it into a full-fledged online community for collaborative health R&D—one providing ongoing advice, tools, thought leadership, and coordination to the biomedical community.

About the author

Aarthi Rao joined the Results for Development team in June 2009. She has worked across various projects including the Ministerial Leadership Initiative, the Center for Global Health R&D Policy Assessment, and the Health Financing Task Force. She is now helping to lead a study of the biomedical innovation system in India and assessing its role in advancing global health technologies. Ms. Rao has worked in both India and Nepal in addition to U.S.-based non-profit organizations. She holds a B.A. in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins University where she studied Public Health and International Development.

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