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Open Access Debate

One step forward, one step sideways? Expanding research capacity for neglected diseases

Joel Lexchin

Author affiliations

School of Health Policy and Management, York University, 4700 Keele St., Toronto ON M3J 1P3, Canada

Emergency Department, University Health Network, 190 Elizabeth St., Toronto ON M5G 2C4, Canada

Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, 263 McCaul St., Toronto ON M5T 1W7, Canada

Citation and License

BMC International Health and Human Rights 2010, 10:20  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-10-20

Published: 14 July 2010



There is general agreement, including from the pharmaceutical industry, that current market based methods of generating research into the development of pharmaceutical products that are relevant for developing countries do not work. This conclusion is relevant not just for the most neglected diseases such as leishmaniasis but even for global diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.


Stimulating research will mean overcoming barriers such as patent thickets, poor coordination of research activities, exclusive licensing of new technologies by universities and the structural problems that inhibit conducting appropriate clinical trials in developing countries. In addition, it is necessary to ensure that the priorities for research reflect the needs of developing countries and not just donors. This article will explore each of these issues and then look at three emerging approaches to stimulating research -paying for innovation, priority review sales or vouchers and public-private partnerships, - and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.


All of the stakeholders agree that there is a pressing need for a major expansion in the level of R&D. Whatever that new model turns out to be, it will have to deal with the 5 barriers outlined in this paper. Finally, none of the three proposals considered here for expanding research is free from major limitations.