Questions as Mileposts of Progress

Recently Melinda Moree (newly appointed CEO of BioVentures for Global Health) and I attended an interesting dinner of global health experts in New York. Before the meal we were discussing the fact that many product-development partnerships (PDPs) for drugs and vaccines in global health are being judged pretty harshly right now for not having produced enough new, licensed products. This seems too harsh we thought, but still the question of "are the PDPs a good investment" needs an answer. So, we thought about alternatives to measure the progress made by PDPs.

2010-02-04-Questions.jpgstyle="float: left; margin:10px" >Rather than judging PDP success on the licensed products they have yet to provide, we thought, perhaps the measurement of success should be whether the PDPs have changed the questions that people in the field are asking. Melinda remarked on the progress with malaria vaccines where the questions now are all about who will pay for it, and how will we roll the vaccine out in affected countries. This is a big shift from the questions that prevailed when Melinda started PATH's Malaria Vaccine Initiative in 1999. In those days the questions were about whether a successful vaccine against a parasitic infection like malaria could ever be successfully developed. The questions were on key research issues: how will you develop immunity? How can a sporozite-stage vaccine be expected to protect against disease when the parasite has so many stages where it can evade the immune system?

Recent data from the leading malaria vaccine candidate, RTSS, from GlaxoSmithKline shows that a vaccine can successfully protect children against malaria infections. The vaccine is now undergoing a major, multi-country vaccine evaluation in Africa and definitive data on the vaccine's effect are expected by 2012. The advances of this vaccine and its clinical development are the output of a product development partnership, the Malaria Vaccine Initiative at PATH, that collaborates with GSK Biologicals, and uses funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In short, one milepost of success in malaria vaccines is in the questions people are asking. When the questions have shifted from whether a vaccine could ever be made into questions about how we will pay for and deploy the vaccine to the kids who need it the most you know there's been progress.

Try measuring your own progress with questions. What are questions are you facing in your projects or work? Are they the same ones that you were wrestling 5 or even 10 years ago? If so, maybe you should rethink your strategy. If not, maybe you've got evidence of progress.