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New research shows global divide in pharmaceutical research is significant – but closing

By Simon Linacre October 3, 2023

Traditional disparities in funding and collaboration in Global North and Global South are changing

London, UK – Tuesday 3 October 2023

According to new research conducted by Digital Science there is a worrying divide between Global North and Global South countries on both the funding and collaboration in pharmaceutical research. However, the most recent data shows that this divide may be closing, benefiting Global South countries hit hardest by lack of access to essential medicines and vaccines.

The report – detailed in a new blog launching the ‘Fragmentation: A Divided Research World campaign as part of Digital Science’s TL;DR initiative – is an evaluation of scientific publications including contributions from the top ten pharmaceutical companies in the Global North and Global South, which have been indexed in Digital Science’s Dimensions database in the past five years (2018 to 2022). The study maps aspects of the landscape in this area exploring differences in: 

  • pharmaceutical research practices from different perspectives including funding and collaboration
  • pharmaceutical research and its association with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • the impact of the cost of medicines developed by pharma 
  • their accessibility in distinct geographic regions. 

The results show significant gaps between the two global areas, but also some ways where these gaps are now closing.

North and South

The background to the research is the stark truth that an estimated two billion people worldwide still lack access to essential medicines and vaccines. Enabling access, especially for those in most need in the Global South, is a key component in the UN’s SDGs Agenda.

Dr Briony Fane, Director of Research Analytics at Digital Science and lead author of the study, says: “While countries in the Global South have obtained benefits from pharmaceuticals originally developed for high income country markets, little research has been conducted on diseases that primarily affect these countries, such as malaria or tuberculosis.

She adds: “And it is not just in healthcare but also in education, government, not for profits, etc that science is funded for the development of new pharmaceutical products aimed at transforming lives.

But there is good news as the data and recent initiatives show the gap between North and South is closing: “The geography of the pharmaceutical industry’s participation in this area of research indicates perhaps the start of a growing commitment to its involvement in addressing the access to medicine in all areas in the world and evidence of collaboration across the Global North and Global South, however small, shows a level of responsibility being taken by the industry,” says Dr Fane.

Progress for all

In 2023, Digital Science is looking to extend its mission to support better, open, collaborative and inclusive research through a number of different initiatives. The #Fragmentation campaign will ask: is research fragmented, and if so, how? Fragmentation in research can undermine societal progress – progress which Digital Science is committed to driving forward in its support of the research ecosystem. 

The exploration of fragmented research begins with the focus on global divides such as the ‘tale of two pharmas’ detailed above, then moving onto the domain of ‘siloed knowledge’, where we will concentrate on areas of research where a lack of integration can result in research findings remaining isolated, limiting their broader applicability across the research ecosystem. Following these two themes will be investigations on policy-making, research funding and complexity. 

Dr Juergen Wastl, Director of Academic Relations & Consultancy and Digital Science, says: “Our campaign aims to highlight the structural features of fragmentation, by consolidating concepts and by demonstrating a number of analytical approaches through the use of Digital Science tools such as Dimensions.”

In June 2023 Digital Science launched its #MindtheTrustGap campaign which highlighted the different ways trust in research was being threatened and how this erosion could be mitigated across issues such as a lack of competencies in generative AI tools, the impact of AI on predatory publishing problem and the importance of data availability statements. The campaign has helped increase the profiles of research and publication integrity, aided by new product releases in this area such as Dimensions Research Integrity

Find out more about the Digital Science Fragmentation campaign

About Digital Science

Digital Science is an AI-focused technology company providing innovative solutions to complex challenges faced by researchers, universities, funders, industry and publishers. We work in partnership to advance global research for the benefit of society. Through our brands – Altmetric, Dimensions, Figshare, ReadCube, Symplectic, IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, Overleaf, Writefull, OntoChem, Scismic and metaphacts – we believe when we solve problems together, we drive progress for all. Visit and follow @digitalsci on Twitter/X or on LinkedIn.

Media contacts

Simon Linacre, Head of Content, Brand & Press, Digital Science: Mobile: +44 7484 381477,

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