Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Below the radar

By Joanna Chataway, Innogen Co-Director

There was an interesting article recently in The Economist entitled 'Lessons from a Frugal Innovator' (16.04.09). The basic argument is that in the healthcare sector, Indian companies are responding with new products and efficient delivery systems to cost conscious national consumers. In some cases this is leading to superior treatment than can be found in the inefficient West.

This relates to arguments put forward in a new Innogen working paper, 'Below the Radar: What does innovation in the Asian Driver Economies have to offer other low income countries?' In that working paper we suggest that needs of poor consumers in low income contexts might constitute 'disruptive markets' which could in the end have radical implications for innovation trajectories. Our argument is that the needs of these consumers are often missed entirely by companies based in the West (thus below the radar...) and in any case the business models these companies use are inappropriate for addressing the needs of this type of consumer and user. Companies in India and China may be able to respond to poor peoples' needs more effectively and set in motion widespread change in the rate and direction of innovation in different economic sectors.

We would welcome feedback and thoughts.

Something to feel good about

By Joanna Chataway, Innogen Co-Director

I don’t know how significant this is but on the face of it the University of Edinburgh should feel proud of itself this week. The University, under pressure from students, has said it will not license its science and technology to pharmaceutical companies that won’t sell their drugs at cost price to developing countries. Edinburgh is the first university to implement such a scheme. A longer article appears in the Observer (26 April 09).

The potential significance of this scheme is that other universities and public sector bodies might follow. With more and more patents owned by the public sector this might have quite an impact on availability of drugs in poor countries. I guess one could argue that this might be gesture politics but it will amount to more than that and anyway that in itself does not make this unimportant. Real change in making affordable drugs available to poor people in developing countries may depend on multiple factors (see Innogen’s OECD report on Health Biotechnology to 2030 for an idea of some the issues) but schemes like the one just announced by the University of Edinburgh are vital in signalling that the current situation whereby people die in their millions of totally preventable diseases must end.