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Berkman Initiative Spotlights Lessons from Ebola outbreak

Optimizing drug R&D incentives, increasing access to medicines, and improving coordination can help save lives in the next global public health emergency.

July 10, 2015 (Cambridge, Massachusetts) - Global Access in Action (GAiA), an initiative of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, is hosting a workshop today to explore lessons from the recent Ebola outbreak for improving future preparedness for public health crises. Forty leaders from civil society, academia, international procurement and donor agencies, government, and the pharmaceutical industry will review the Ebola drug development landscape and explore ways to alter policies to strengthen ongoing research and reduce the incidence and severity of future outbreaks.

Participants at today’s workshop will grapple with difficult questions generated by the recent Ebola outbreak, such as:

  • Why there still is no cure or vaccine for Ebola almost forty years after the first outbreak and ten years after published reports that a vaccine candidate showed promise in non-human subjects?
  • What structural and/or policy changes could incentivize R&D into treatments for neglected diseases, including improved international coordination and non-patent incentives such as prizes, challenges, and advance market commitments?
  • What strategies should be adopted to improve future preparedness for similar public health emergencies, such as conditions on grant funding, and stockpiles or strike forces to improve humanitarian responses?

“The Ebola outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2015 offers a painful illustration of how important it is for the world community to get drug development policy right,” said William Fisher, Global Access in Action co-director and WilmerHale Professor of Intellectual Property Law at Harvard Law School.

“Practical steps can save lives and improve responses to global health crises, such as the recent Ebola outbreak,” said Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law School. "Before the next crisis, it is vital to bring attention and political will to such practical steps, including nimble incentives for research and development of responsive drugs and coordination and commitment to enhance access to medicines.”

“Stakeholders across the world need to come together to develop systematic incentives for increasing R&D into diseases that disproportionately affect the global poor, and for which there are insufficient commercial incentives,” said Quentin Palfrey, Global Access in Action co-director and Special Counsel at the law firm WilmerHale.

“As the Ebola outbreak demonstrates, international coordination to respond to a burgeoning public health crisis is very difficult -- and the stakes are enormous,” added Mark Wu, Global Access in Action co-director, Berkman Center faculty co-director, and an Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. 

Global Access in Action explores laws and policies that govern innovation and commercialization of technologies for the poor. The project aims to develop pragmatic solutions to difficult problems that have tangible impact on the lives of the world’s poorest populations.

The workshop cuts across two Global Access in Action thematic topics:  access to lifesaving medicines for the poor and incentives for research into neglected diseases that disproportionately affect the poor. In 2014, the project hosted a workshop on ways to increase access to pharmaceutical products in the developing world, with particular emphasis on intra-country price discrimination and humanitarian licensing strategies. 

For news and developments about Global Access in Action, please visit If you wish to get in touch with the GAiA team, please email Quentin Palfrey <>.

About the Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Founded in 1997, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is dedicated to exploring, understanding, and shaping the development of the digitally-networked environment. A diverse, interdisciplinary community of scholars, practitioners, technologists, policy experts, and advocates, we seek to tackle the most important challenges of the digital age while keeping a focus on tangible real-world impact in the public interest. Our faculty, fellows, staff and affiliates conduct research, build tools and platforms, educate others, form bridges and facilitate dialogue across and among diverse communities. More information at

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