New Directions in Private Sector Capital for Global Health Technology Innovation

I recently wrote in a publication called “Reimagining Global Health,”1 about the changing landscape of capital for global health. Today, I write about a next chapter effort to create a new source of domain-driven financial and advisory capital, specifically targeting medical technology innovations for the most resource-constrained regions of the world.

Global health has been traditionally linked with the concept of philanthropy, not impact investment. From the generous gifts of individuals, foundations, and corporations, to government donor grants, philanthropy has changed the health prospects of billions of people. For example, basic vaccination is now the norm in all countries, and millions are being treated with HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria drugs.

But philanthropy alone cannot meet the challenges for global health. The world has successfully reduced the number of child deaths by nearly half since 1990. But sustaining the pace of progress going forward will be harder yet. The goal is to bring all countries to the same low levels of child mortality as those in Europe and the United States by 2030. This represents one of the most audacious challenges ever attempted.

If we are to succeed with this audacious challenge, new solutions are required. Whilst rightly there will be much focus on new drugs and vaccines, these alone will not be sufficient. There is a critical need for innovation in medical technology as well. It is excellent that post-2015, global health priorities are now established through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and there is recognition that low-cost medical technology should be encouraged and must play a role in solving global health needs.

There are many great innovations under development in medical technology for developing country settings, but alarmingly few have reached market and still fewer have reached impact. The vast majority remain today stuck at the “idea/opportunity” stage.

One key reason why the necessary medical innovations are not achieving scale/impact, is that, unlike a drug or vaccine where the same product is used regardless of geography, the medical technology innovations that are needed for resource constrained settings need to be designed with their use setting in mind and are generally not relevant in western markets where the challenges and priorities of the health system are by definition different. Furthermore, impact is only achieved when users can be trained to adopt a new technology, adding additional barriers to deployment. Success for a new innovation requires an in-depth understanding of the setting for which the product is targeted, and the regulatory environment and barriers to introduction.

As a result of these factors there has been an historical reluctance from the private sector to fund in this area. Although there are early signs of health-related impact investment interest and activity, we need significantly more private sector involvement, bringing with it greater attention to market discipline and business sustainability principles.

A new domain-specific private sector impact investment initiative is now being launched to help overcome some of the historical funding and complexity challenges confronting medical technology for the most needy regions of the world. Called TEAMFund, it will focus solely on MedTech innovations, and draw upon that part of the private sector that can help most: current and retired MedTech veterans with multinational, entrepreneurial, and transactional knowledge and experience.

This MedTech-driven support will be both financial and advisory. With its financial support, will come private sector market-discipline selection and monitoring processes to help ensure that the most viable, sustainable, and scalable innovations are advanced. On the advisory front, it will offer operational, technical, regulatory, and other skill sets, to help entrepreneur/innovators accelerate the lengthy development process, and advance the innovations to market and ultimately to scale.

TEAMFund represents a novel and important direction in private sector advisory/impact capital for medical innovations. These types of carefully tailored, carefully targeted private sector initiatives are to be encouraged and supported, as they will help fuel meaningful progress with our world’s new SDG health goals. More importantly, these types of private sector initiatives could help save millions of lives in those regions of the world where healthcare resources are most scarce, and healthcare burdens are greatest.

1 “Reimagining Global Health,” PATH (2015), www.ic2030.org.