Published in the HelloDD
Infectious diseases remain a significant burden on the global community. The past two decades have seen infectious disease outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, dengue, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). These recurring outbreaks are a stark reminder that infectious diseases are not only limited to poor populations and underdeveloped nations. The world is currently in the midst of a third new coronavirus outbreak which has had an unexpected global impact on both rich and poor nations alike and highlights the susceptibility of the global population to a highly contagious pathogen like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). This pandemic is unprecedented both in terms of the economic impact and previous efforts to develop new interventions for MERS and SARS.
To solve a significant global health matter such as this pandemic, international cooperation is very important. The RIGHT (Research Investment for Global Health Technology) Fund is a global health research funding agency established in 2018 by the Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and Korean industry partners to address the medical and technological needs towards alleviating the impact of infectious diseases especially in developing countries. The RIGHT Fund invests in vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and digital health applications that can improve the lives of patients in low-resource settings. Like other research funding agencies, applicants to the RIGHT Fund should highlight how their proposal can address the current unmet medical need such as the lack of available treatments. Other pivotal aspects the RIGHT Fund considers includes the utilization of specific or emerging technologies that exemplify the strengths of Korea; projects that can enrich the local development pipeline particularly with respect to product development and manufacturing; and expanding engagement of Korean companies or R&D organizations for global health initiatives. Leveraging strength increases the possibility of success in public-private-partnership so that leveraging the strengths of Korea could ultimately contribute to improving global health.
This consideration is also reflected in the RIGHT Fund’s investment process. The RIGHT Fund releases Request for Proposals (RFP) two to three times per year. We require applicants to submit research proposals in English and may also include an in-person presentation and interview with the RIGHT Fund Selection Committee in English at the final review step. We believe it is important for local researchers to have the opportunity to develop skills and experience writing research proposals in English because the development of new interventions for developing world would require larger financial support from international sources such as the WHO, BMGF, Global Fund, etc. And, we would like to help Korean applicants’ to improve their English presentation and proposal writing skills through their experience with RIGHT Fund’s grant application process.
Besides, our investment review and management process differ from other research funding agencies through the use of a stage-gate funding mechanism. So, the RIGHT Fund works closely with applicants during the review process to refine these deliverables. Also, award payouts are not disbursed in a single upfront payment and are instead tied to mutually agreed, specific project milestones and deliverables. This serves three main functions; first, it ensures that critical studies addressing the key scientific questions are prioritized, second, it is adaptable to unforeseen developments that can lead to delays or potential opportunities, and third, it reduces the investment risk by providing an exit point if the primary proof of concept is not achieved. These milestones are key to the decision-making process for both external reviewers consisting of domestic and international experts in the life sciences and the Selection Committee that have extensive knowledge and experience in global health R&D because they reflect tangible project deliverables. Again, this milestone review and payout process are very common with the aforementioned global funders and our awardees should be able to be familiar with such global funding practice already.
The RIGHT Fund is the public-private-partnership research fund in Korea with an investment focus on developing global health interventions. Not all applicants may be aware that products developed for global health markets have special considerations that are often defined at the start of the project, such as low-cost of goods and manufacturing, or that they must adhere to specific target product profiles set forth by the WHO. Because of this, our responsibility should also be directed towards developing the capabilities of Korean researchers wishing to contribute to global health solutions by paving the way to a wider network of international funders and product development partners with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of patients in developing countries.