Missing Medicines


Ebola has killed at least 11,000 people, leaving thousands of children orphaned and hundreds of communities stigmatised. The development of vaccines for the disease, which could have saved thousands of lives, began over a decade ago. However, research slowed as pharmaceutical companies were unwilling to develop the vaccine without being sure it would make them a profit.

The current model for researching and developing lifesaving medicines is based on profit, not need.

For pharmaceutical companies, there is no incentive to research treatments for killer diseases that affect people who cannot afford them.

Drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis disproportionately affect people in poor communities. A long, gruelling course of treatment can cost $250,000 and cause horrendous side effects such as deafness and psychosis. Even then the treatment is only around 50% successful.

Despite these failures, over the past 50 years there have been just two new treatments developed for TB compared with 14 for hay fever. Hay fever is an unpleasant but non-life threatening condition while tuberculosis kills around 1.5 million people a year. 

The difference is that sufferers of hay fever are people in wealthy nations, while TB affects largely people in poverty. This is the phenomenon of Missing Medicines – the treatments for killer diseases that impact people in poverty simply don’t exist, because the incentive to develop them is not there.

What’s the solution to the Missing Medicines problem?

The market model for researching and developing new medicines is broken. But there are ways to fix it. We’re asking the UK Government to do three things:

1. Commit to spending at least 0.01% of GDP on Research and Development of medicines devoted to meeting the health needs of developing countries

2. Fund the testing of alternative models and methods for Research and Development, using the following kinds of tools:

  • By creating Prize Funds, governments will reward researchers for solving a problem, such as creating the compound for a new medicine.
  • If governments offer grant funding for new research, this will incentivise scientists to develop and trial new medicines and vaccines for diseases like MDR TB and Ebola.
  • By using an open approach to research, scientists can share information, and build on each other’s work.

3. Commission a report to assess the costs and benefits of the current model versus alternative approaches like those listed above.

If these alternatives are implemented, we may have a chance at defeating killer diseases like Ebola and drug-resistant forms of TB.

We’ll be asking the UK Government to lead the way in reforming the way Research and Development is done. 

Take Action

Sign up to our campaign to pledge your commitment to the fight for the development of medicines based on need, not profit.

Desktop version