2023 Innovation Challenge: Phase II Ideas

The MSA Team, in consultation with domain experts and advisors, pared down the 39 Phase I winning ideas to a shortlist of ideas that will enter Phase II. In this decision-making process, we considered several factors: (1) amenability to market shaping “pull” mechanisms, (2) potential impact, and (3) neglectedness. 

In this acceleration phase, MSA will create teams of “doers” to work on the below ideas. Over the next several months, the MSA team will support these teams to develop pull designs to incentivize innovation in their particular areas. In addition to financial support and the opportunity to win prizes, these teams will access the advice of market shaping experts, academics, domain specialists, and industry experts.

Phase II Ideas

Pandemic Preparedness

Antimicrobial Resistance: Diagnostics

Led by Akhil Bansal, MD at AMR Funding Circle and David McAdams (Duke)

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is responsible for over a million annual global deaths and is a growing biosecurity threat. With the expected burden from AMR reaching 10 million deaths by 2050, innovations that are able to slow the growth of resistance could save millions of lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs. New diagnostic tests are needed to reduce the overuse and misuse of antimicrobials by equipping providers with better decision-making tools and enhancing surveillance capabilities. Diagnostic innovations would lead to global public benefits of improved antibiotic conservation, slower development of resistance, and longer antibiotic lifespans, but this wedge between the private and social benefits results in inadequate investment. Pull funding would help close this gap to incentivize researchers and biotech companies to prioritize investments in novel diagnostics, encourage competition between potential developers, and ensure accessible pricing to promote broad access and adoption.

Pandemic Preparedness

Broad-spectrum Antivirals

Led by Jano Costard at SPRIND and Chris Avery (HKS)

Developing an advanced portfolio of viral therapeutics is a key pandemic preparedness measure to reduce the severity and mortality of a future pandemic. However, commercial markets do not adequately value the social benefit of an antiviral being “broad-spectrum” such that it could be deployed rapidly in response to a future novel pathogen. Pull mechanisms would be able to specify a target product profile that prioritizes drug attributes that have a high public health value such as broad-spectrum efficacy and the ability to reduce transmission. Having these antivirals ready for use against a novel pathogen with little to no modification would allow for faster deployment during a future pandemic, saving lives and reducing economic losses.

Climate Change

Clean Cooling

Led by Daniel Kuehner at Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI)

Air conditioning (A/C) is responsible for roughly 4% of all global emissions, a share that will likely rise as millions of people in warm, humid climates enter the global middle class and purchase A/C units. More energy-efficient, climate-friendly A/Cs often have a higher upfront cost, deterring consumers from choosing them over cheaper, but more pollution-intensive alternatives. Moreover, because consumers do not internalize the cost their cooling units impose on the environment, there is an insufficient commercial incentive to invest in climate-friendly cooling. A pull mechanism for  more climate-friendly A/C units in low- and middle-income countries could be helpful in incentivizing firms to invest R&D in cooling innovation, contributing to climate adaptation and mitigation.

Climate Change

Green Cement

Led by Benjamin Stephens at Instiglio

Concrete is the second-most consumed resource in the world (after water), but the production of its primary input, cement, is highly pollution-intensive, and is responsible for roughly 7% of all global emissions. Unlike other major pollution sources such as cars and electricity, there has been relatively less effort invested in reducing the carbon intensity of cement. There is also little commercial incentive for firms to invest in research to reduce their carbon footprint, as the benefits of a cleaner environment are diffused across the entire public. As a result, there is an opportunity for pull mechanisms and procurement reforms that  provide firms with a financial incentive to green their production processes.

Pandemic Preparedness

Indoor Air Quality

Led by Gavriel Kleinwaks at 1 Day Sooner

Innovations in indoor air quality can reduce pathogen spread indoors. For example, far-UVC technology is similar to the commonly used UV water treatment, but, instead, can be used to kill pathogens spread indoors through air and respiratory droplets. Since indoor spaces have an especially high risk of pathogen transmission, this technology could play a major role in preventing future pandemics and, in the event of a pandemic, help keep important institutions open (e.g., schools and hospitals). To enable wider spread adoption of innovative products, targeted research is needed to develop cheaper products that appeal to customers. However,  the private incentive to invest in indoor air quality is incommensurate with the social value (i.e., reducing transmission of pathogens benefits society at large – not just individual building owner customers). Pull funding, such as advanced market commitments, could help close this gap between private and social value and, thus, stimulate more R&D and scale-up in this space.

Pandemic Preparedness

Personal Protective Equipment

Led by Aman Patel at Technologies for Pandemic Defense

Highly effective personal protective equipment (PPE) is a critical defense tool against future pandemics. PPE that can be deployed rapidly and is pathogen agnostic could reduce transmission and protect critical workers before vaccines or therapeutics are available. However, there is little commercial incentive to invest in these products before a pandemic, when few are buying high-quality PPE products. A pull mechanism could create an incentive to invest in creating such a product now and ensure rapid accessibility during the next pandemic through stockpiling, reusable designs, or capacity commitments.

Pandemic Preparedness

Repurposing Generic Drugs

Led by Beth Boyer at Duke Margolis

Drugs and other medical innovations often have uses beyond their original intended purposes. However, firms have little financial incentive to research these novel, but socially valuable uses because firms cannot enforce patents on new uses for off-patent drugs. This may have played out during COVID: research suggests that, for COVID, pharmaceutical corporations were much less likely to sponsor research on repurposing drugs with generic competitors. Pull mechanisms are capable of addressing this problem because they can incentivize investment to achieve well-defined health outcomes. Funders can target these funding mechanisms to fight future pandemics (e.g., to produce antivirals) and, also, to address other health conditions, more broadly.