Panel Paper: Inequality in Nanomedicine Research

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 : 11:50 AM
Clement House, 7th Floor, Room 02 (London School of Economics)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Thomas Woodson and Jacky Xie, STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY
A simple definition of inclusive innovation is the creation of new goods, services and processes that help marginalized communities. Inclusive innovation occurs at many levels. For example, scientists can create individual products, like cheap water filters, that are inclusive innovations, or policy makers can implement new regulations that allow a country’s innovation system to be more inclusive of marginalized communities. With all the emphasis on inclusive innovation, have the most recent technologies been inclusive?

Since 2000, nanotechnology has been a major research area. Many policy officials and scientists believe that this technology will revolutionize the 21st century through new products that are designed and engineered at the nano scale. In particular, nanotechnology for health applications (nanomedicine) has received a lot of attention from the research community. Scientists and doctors are using novel nanotechnology materials and processes to develop drug delivery systems, diagnostics, implants and prosthetics. However, there are few systematic studies on the types of medicines being developed and whether nanomedicines will target illness that impact a broad proportion of the global population. This study analyzes global clinical trials data from the US National Institute of Health to better understand the landscape for nanomedicine and the impacts this technology will have on global health, poverty and inequality.   

We began the study by developing a robust search strategy to find all the nanomedicine clinical trials from 2000-2014.  After organizing and cleaning the data, we uncovered serval patterns. First out of the, 196,147 clinical trials in the database, we estimate that 3,417 (or 1.7%) of them can be classified as nanomedicine. The majority of the nanomedicine clinical trials (51%) were for medicines that targeted cancer like breast cancer (425 clinical trials) and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (254) clinical trial. Not surprisingly, almost all the clinical trials were sponsored by organization in the USA and Western Europe. Finally, we compared the nanomedicine clinical trial data to statistics on the disability adjusted life years of diseases. We found that many of the world’s most dangerous diseases, like heart disease, malaria and birth complications, have very few nanomedicine clinical trials. Currently we are comparing nanomedicine clinical trials to the rest of the clinical trials to find any significant differences. We will present our new findings at the conference.

Overall, nanomedicine is a promising technology to address major health problems, but as of now, the technology is increasing inequality. The majority of the research is on developing medicines that primarily impact individuals in rich countries.