What Drives Innovation? Lessons from COVID-19 R&D

Author/Editor:

Ruchir Agarwal ; Patrick Gaule

Publication Date:

February 19, 2021

Electronic Access:

Free Download. Use the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this PDF file

Disclaimer: IMF Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to encourage debate. The views expressed in IMF Working Papers are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board, or IMF management.

Summary:

To examine the drivers of innovation, this paper studies the global R&D effort to fight the deadliest diseases and presents four results. We find: (1) global pharmaceutical R&D activity—measured by clinical trials—typically follows the ‘law of diminishing effort’: i.e. the elasticity of R&D effort with respect to market size is about ½ in the cross-section of diseases; (2) the R&D response to COVID-19 has been a major exception to this law, with the number of COVID-19 trials being 7 to 20 times greater than that implied by its market size; (3) the aggregate short-term elasticity of science and innovation can be very large, as demonstrated by aggregate flow of clinical trials increasing by 38% in 2020, with limited crowding out of trials for non-COVID diseases; and (4) public institutions and government-led incentives were a key driver of the COVID-19 R&D effort—with public research institutions accounting for 70 percent of all COVID-19 clinical trials globally and being 10 percentage points more likely to conduct a COVID-19 trial relative to private firms. Overall, while economists are naturally in favor of market size as a driving force for innovation (i.e.“if the market size is sufficiently large then innovation will happen”), our work suggests that scaling up global innovation may require a broader perspective on the drivers of innovation—including early-stage incentives, non-monetary incentives, and public institutions.

Series:

Working Paper No. 2021/048

Frequency:

regular

English

Publication Date:

February 19, 2021

ISBN/ISSN:

9781513570068/1018-5941

Stock No:

WPIEA2021048

Format:

Paper

Pages:

58

Please address any questions about this title to publications@imf.org