Japan - Global health R&D

This section focuses on global health research and development (R&D) that addresses the global health challenges disproportionately affecting the world's most disadvantaged people. Following the scope of Policy Cures Research, it focuses on 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, it also takes a closer look at donor contributions for COVID-19 R&D within the framework of Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). Although 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. (For more on what is and is not included, by disease, read G-Finder's scope document.)

Japan’s funding for Global Health R&D increased significantly in 2020, due to increased funding for R&D for coronaviral diseases

According to data from the G-FINDER survey conducted by Policy Cures Research, Japan provided US$192 million to R&D EIDs, PRNDs, and SRH in 2020, making it the seventh-largest public funder of global health R&D in 2020. This represents a 223% increase compared to 2019 levels. Japan provided US$180 million (94% of total R&D funding) for EIDs, up from 43% of total R&D funding in 2019. Only 6% (US$12 million) of its total R&D funding was for PRNDs, down from 56% in 2019. Any remainder was spent on SRH (0.3%) and R&D initiatives targeting more than one disease area.

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Japan’s contributions to R&D for EIDs has almost six-fold in 2020 in connection to the COVID-19 pandemic

Japan contributed US$180 million to R&D for EIDs in 2020, making it the fifth-largest donor to R&D for EIDs in that year. Japan’s funding for EIDs increased by 596% between 2019 and 2020 — driven by increased funding to R&D for coronaviral diseases. Between 2019 and 2020, funding for coronaviral disease-related R&D rose from US$47,000 in 2019 to US$154 million in 2020. It is worth noting that it is common to see spikes and dips in EID funding as donors respond to outbreaks, and these do not necessarily indicate a significant re/de-prioritization in the sector; however, consistent funding for EID R&D (for example, funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; CEPI) is essential for preparing and rapidly responding to EID outbreaks, in terms of both research and containment.

Nearly all of Japan’s EID R&D funding (86%) in 2020 was directed to coronaviral diseases (including MERS, SARS, and COVID-19).

Japan’s new global health policy (published in May 2022) draws increased focus to combatting infectious diseases, primarily through strengthening preparedness, prevention, and response to public health crises, including pandemics, in partner countries. In 2016, Japan released its ‘Action Plan for Strengthening Measures on Emerging Infectious Diseases,’ which guides investments in tackling EIDs and includes a more concrete focus on R&D for EIDs. The plan works to strengthen international systems through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund), as well as domestic resources and research institutes dealing with infectious diseases. In February 2022, Japan pledged US$300 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations’ (CEPI) five-year pandemic preparedness plan. Furthermore, in May 2022, Tokyo-based GHIT Fund and CEPI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen collaboration between the two organizations in the development of tools to combat infectious diseases. This collaboration is expected to further Japan’s global efforts to fight infectious diseases by enhancing its development capabilities. (For more details about Japan’s global health efforts, please refer to Japan’s ‘Global Health’ sector).

Japan has contributed US$18 million to COVID-19 R&D as of October 2020

According to Policy Cures Research’s COVID-19 R&D tracker, Japan has announced funding commitments totaling US$18 million for COVID-19 R&D between the start of the pandemic and October 2020 (latest data available). US$11 million of this will support diagnostics, US$4 million will support therapeutics, and US$2 million will support vaccines.

In addition to these commitments, Japan pledged US$300 million to CEPI’s five-year pandemic preparedness plan in February 2022. CEPI (along with Gavi) is convening the vaccine pillar of ACT-A, an internationally organized, end-to-end solution to the COVID-19 pandemic and a framework for collaboration through which donor countries commit funds toward R&D for COVID-19. However, not all ACT-A funding is for R&D since it also has strong health system strengthening and vaccine distribution components. (Please refer to the ‘Global Health’ sector for additional information on the broader ACT-A global health response to COVID-19.)

Japan’s funding for R&D for PRNDs decreased between 2019 and 2020

In 2020, Japan invested US$12 million in R&D for PRNDs. This makes Japan the tenth-largest public supporter of PRND R&D in 2020. In 2020, funding for PRNDs decreased by 65% compared to 2019.

Nearly all of Japan’s funding for PRNDs is categorized as R&D for more than one disease (82% in 2020), in addition to a smaller amount for malaria (9%) and tuberculosis (4%).

Japan identifies R&D support for neglected tropical diseases, and other diseases which would be categorized as PRNDs, as a key tactic within its health strategy. Much of Japan’s support for R&D for PRNDs is channeled through the Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT) Fund, an intermediary launched in 2013 by the Japanese government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and pharmaceutical companies that finance and manage a portfolio of product development partnerships between civil society and the public and private sectors. To date, 45% of the portfolio (US$123 million) has been dedicated to malaria-related projects, 45% (US$123 million) to neglected tropical diseases, and 11% (US$30 million) to tuberculosis research.

Japan's funding for SRH R&D is low but growing

In 2020, Japan invested US$778,000 in R&D for SRH, including US$140,000 in R&D for more than one disease that also counts as funding for PRNDs and EIDs. This makes Japan the 17th-largest public supporter of SRH R&D in 2020. Although Japan’s overall funding for SRH R&D in 2020 remained relatively low compared to other donors, it was a 106% increase from 2019 (US$377,098).

Most of Japan’s 2020 funding for SRH (78%) was directed towards R&D for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Other support was channeled to R&D for more than one disease (14%), hepatitis B (4%), and human papillomavirus (HPV) and HPV-related cervical cancer (4%). When disaggregated by product type, more than half (57%) of this funding supports basic research, in addition to drugs (18%), vaccines (3%), drug-related platform technologies (7%), and vaccine-related platform technologies (7%).

Japan's development policies prioritize infectious disease control and partner country R&D capacity building

Japan’s investments in global health R&D are guided by its framework policy document, the ‘Development Cooperation Charter,’ which highlights universal health coverage (UHC) and infectious disease control as key priorities. Japan’s strategy for responding to the COVID-19 crisis and preparing for future health crises, ‘Leave No One’s Health Behind,’ emphasizes accelerating R&D for COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics as well as strengthening research and testing capacity within partner countries.

Key recipients include the GHIT Fund and CEPI, with funds coming from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Most of Japan’s funding for PRNDs is channeled through the GHIT Fund (79%, or US$9 million in 2020). Within EIDs, CEPI received more than half of Japan’s R&D funding (US$121 million or 67%). The remainder of funds for PRNDs and EIDs as well as funds for SRH are split between a large number of Japanese universities. While not reported to the G-Finder due to the focus on different types of health R&D, the Japanese Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) – which is funded and overseen by the government – also contributes to health R&D.

The Ministry of Health (MHLW) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) are the most relevant actors for global health R&D policymaking. AMED consolidates budgets from different ministries and unifies the process for allocation of research funding. Within the GHIT Fund, the Selection Committee evaluates investment proposals and reports from the project partners and makes funding recommendations to the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors approves the funding recommendations.