Friday Science Review: May 21, 2010
May 21, 2010
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A slightly different FSR this week with a spotlight on Global Health, right on the heels of the recent Grand Challenges Canada announcement. An interesting report in Nature Biotechnology, led by Drs. Abdallah Daar and Peter Singer at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, mapped the collaborations between health biotech companies in developing countries. The study is a first for tracking “South-South” partnerships and they offer some interesting insights:
South-South collaborations have become a widely chosen path for health biotech companies:
- About a quarter (27%), participate in collaborations with another developing country and many (21%) are involved in multiple initiatives.
- South-North collaborations with developed countries are still more common (53%).
- The most active countries with the highest percentage of firms engaged in South-South collaborations are Cuba (~75%) and South Africa (~45%), followed by Egypt, Brazil, India, and China.
- These leading developing countries in health biotech make up the majority of the linkages (see figure below)
- Many of the collaborations are within their own regions such that they are establishing free trade zones to encourage trade with one another.
South-South Collaboration Network
Some of the motivations for companies in developing to collaborate include:
- Minimizing risk and cost by sharing the burden with a partner.
- Expanding their potential markets with an easier or facilitated access to a foreign market.
- Gaining specific knowledge or skills, particularly since there are many specialized skills and technologies involved in biotech research that may not be available locally.
The nature of the collaborations, however, is mainly end-stage commercialization agreements rather than R&D.
- Distribution agreements (72%) and marketing activities (34%) account for the majority of the collaborations with only 13% involving R&D and 9% involving clinical trials activities.
- Innovation based knowledge sharing would likely have greater long-term benefits and future policies should encourage more of these types of collaborations.
To further promote such initiatives, Government organizations and other third parties can, and should, play a larger role to cultivate joint ventures since the majority of the South-South collaborations were initiated by the participating companies themselves. It is important to realize that South-South collaborations in the biotech sector are just as valuable as North-South collaborations to sustain a growing culture that addresses global health issues.
Also note that this study follows a pair of Nature Biotechnology publications last year by the same group at MRC – one explores “South-North” health biotech collaborations and the other focuses on Canadian biotech collaborations with developing countries.