WIPO, WHO, WTO Joint Technical Symposium on Sustainable Development Goals: Innovative technologies to promote healthy lives and well-being

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry’s opening remarks

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World Health Organization Headquarters, Geneva
February 26, 2018

Thank you very much Mariangela, Dr. Tedros, Roberto Azevêdo and dear colleagues. A very good morning to you all. It is really both a pleasure and privilege to be here with you this morning.

I would like to thank Dr. Tedros at the outset, first of all for the new push  being given to the trilateral cooperation. At WIPO, we value very much this special cooperation, which over the course of its existence has succeeded in contributing value.

We are very interested in joining Dr. Tedros and Roberto Azevêdo and their respective colleagues in trying to bring this trilateral cooperation to a higher level and finding practical mechanisms through which we, the three institutions, can work together.

I thank you, Tedros, also for hosting this event today, as well as all your colleagues along with those of Roberto and myself.

Health, innovation and trade are inextricably connected and mutually dependent.  We are not able to enjoy relative health security unless we continue to innovate and to bring on new technologies to improve health outcomes.  I must say I do not envy you, Tedros, when I look at the public health agenda, which includes massive challenges such as antimicrobial resistance, non-communicable diseases, emerging diseases, neglected tropical diseases, pandemic threats, and Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. They all require new advances in medical technology in order to improve outcomes. And the necessary innovation, in turn, requires an economically sustainable basis, for which historically there have been only two sources: the public purse or the market system.

At the same time, it must be recognized that innovation exists to improve the quality of life, the basis of which is health, without which nothing else really matters. This recognition opposes a humanitarian imperative to economic rationalism. In a globalized world, this opposition plays out on both  the national and international stages. Innovations and their material or commercial incarnations need to flow across borders to needy populations. Historically, there have really only been two mechanisms to achieve that flow: public and privately funded organizations, on the one hand, and the market-based system of trade, on the other hand. The policy considerations are thus extremely complex and exist at the intersection of systems whose rationales are very different. I do not think that the view that these policies or systems are incompatible is very helpful at all. They are not incompatible, but they do involve tensions and those tensions are likely to be of an enduring nature.

If the policy bases are complex, the architecture for their implementation is even more so. The innovation ecosystem is extremely complex and increasingly costly, as Dr. Tedros has pointed out, and it is also the focus of economic strategy and competition throughout the world. The health system is the subject of major stresses, not only through the burden of disease that I have mentioned, but also as a consequence of fiscal demands and competition for scarce resources. The world trading system is likewise the subject of new stresses and tensions.

In each system there are major transformations underway. For example, non-State actors have assumed a prominence that was unimaginable 20 years ago. Rare now is the delivery mechanism or the value chain, whether in the field of innovation, health or trade, that does not involve a complex mix of public and private sector actors.

I think the Sustainable Development Goals recognize all of this complexity. In the first place, they have separate goals for health, SDG3, and for innovation, SDG9, while trade underlies economic growth in SDG8 and contributes to the success of the number of other goals. But the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also recognizes that the SDGs are "integrated and indivisible" and "balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental."

The 2030 Agenda also recognizes the complexity of the architecture of delivery systems and value chains. It acknowledges that “a revitalized global partnership is needed to ensure the implementation of the Agenda, bringing together governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other actors in mobilizing all available resources.”

At WIPO, we have a number of initiatives that seek to leverage all available resources and to create linkages among the multiplicity of players that are needed to produce outcomes of value. I just will mention two very briefly, if I may. The first is WIPO Re:Search, which groups 133 State, quasi-public research and market entities in order to share intellectual property and scientific data in the areas of neglected tropical diseases, malaria and tuberculosis. The purpose of the partnership is not healthcare, but is very much upstream - innovation, and an attempt to accelerate drug discovery in an area which is neglected by the market system because these diseases affect the poorest populations of the world that have no purchasing power. This means that the market mechanism for encouraging research and development does not function, a gap that is addressed by this global partnership. WIPO Re:Search has already stimulated more than 120 collaborations, in particular by making the database for WIPO Re:Search an increasingly important resource platform for existing and potential partners and for the publication of research results.

We aim to bring this partnership to a new level.

The second project is the newer initiative of Pat-INFORMED. This is a partnership we have launched with  research-based pharmaceutical companies that will provide legal status data on their  patents, easing the determination of the legal status of medicines. This will assist health agencies and other entities to procure medicines for their populations.

These are just two examples of WIPO’s work in the area of innovation and health. I very much welcome the discussions that we have had between the three Heads of Agency this morning and the desire to find practical means of bringing our cooperation to a higher level.

Thank you very much Tedros for this initiative and we very much look forward to our colleagues’ discussions later today and to taking this partnership forward in the future.

Thank you.