Italy - Global health R&D

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This section focuses on donor countries’ support to global health research and development (R&D) that addresses the global health challenges disproportionately affecting the world’s most disadvantaged people. Following the methodological approach used by Policy Cures Research (read G-Finder’s scope document), it focuses on donor funding and policy in three main areas: 1) emerging infectious diseases (EIDs); 2) poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs); and 3) sexual and reproductive health (SRH). As part of the EID R&D funding, this section also takes a closer look at donor contributions for COVID-19 R&D within the framework of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). This section excludes domestic funding for health R&D that does not benefit low- and middle-income countries. Not all funding mentioned qualifies as ODA.) 

Funding to global health R&D is low, but Italy has been vocal on improving market transparency for drugs

Italy’s support for research and development (R&D) is very low. According to G-FINDER data, Italy reported US$6 million in total R&D funding for EIDs, PRNDs, and SRH in 2020, making Italy the 26th-largest donor of 43. Nearly all US$6 million was dedicated to EIDs, with only US$70 thousand dedicated collectively to both ND and SRH. Global health R&D is not featured in the three-year ‘Programming Guidelines,’ the document guiding Italy’s development cooperation. 

100% of Italy’s funding to EIDs was specified for coronaviral diseases (including MERS, SARS, and COVID-19). It is common to see spikes and dips in EID funding as donors respond to outbreaks, and these fluctuations do not necessarily indicate a significant re/de-prioritization of the sector; however, consistent funding for EID R&D (e.g., funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; CEPI) is essential to ensure preparedness in advance of EID outbreaks and rapid responses—in terms of both research and containment—to emerging disease threats. In 2022, Italy pledged US$23 million to CEPI. 

Although Italy’s funding toward R&D is minimal, Italy has recently shown a strong commitment to increasing access to medicine, as well as improving drug pricing transparency. At the World Health Assembly in May 2019, Italy co-drafted a resolution on ‘Improving the transparency of markets for drugs, vaccines, and other health-related technologies.’ The resolution “urges member states in accordance with their national and regional legal frameworks and contexts” to make information on net prices public, and to support dissemination, availability, and overall transparency of procurement price data. However, the final resolution does not empower the World Health Organization (WHO) to collect and analyze concrete data on drug manufacturer's production costs, which had been the central aim of earlier drafts of the resolution.

Italy has increased R&D funding to EID through its international COVID-19 response

Italy committed an equivalent of US$461 million to the Gavi COVAX AMC for 2021-2025. Not all ACT-A funding is for R&D, since it also has a strong health system strengthening and vaccine distribution components. (For additional information on the broader ACT-A global health response to COVID-19, see Sector: ‘Global Health’.)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the main funder for global health R&D

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs leads on policy for global health R&D and is responsible for the majority of funding in this sector. 
In April 2016, Italy set up a new Center for Global Health as part of the Italian National Institute for Health (ISS), which focuses on R&D for neglected diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, Ebola, and Zika. The center is not yet fully operational. Currently, the ISS is headed by Professor Silvio Brusaferro.