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Improving how the IMF does business could help billions of people worldwide — by giving governments money to spend on public goods and increasing accountability. Podcast

The conditions placed on countries borrowing money from the International Monetary Fund have further disadvantaged these countries economically.

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People march with a banner that reads in Spanish 'Stop the adjustment, out with the IMF,' in Buenos Aires, Argentina on May 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

In countries across the Global South, the launch of IMF programs often sparks considerable concern. This is because of the IMF’s reputation: during the 1980s, many nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America turned to the IMF seeking loans to mitigate economic challenges. These loans were accompanied by stringent conditions, and countries faced pressure to reduce public subsidies and social spending, downsize the public sector workforce, and increase taxes.

Originally founded after the second world war, the IMF aimed to provide a framework for countries to cooperate in managing their exchange rates and to facilitate international trade. Since then, it has evolved to provide financial assistance and support to countries facing economic crises and emergencies worldwide. Member countries contribute a certain amount of money to the IMF based on their economic size, and in turn, they are able to access loans as a means of aid.

During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the IMF extended loans to over 80 countries. Presently, more than 90 countries remain indebted to the IMF, with such loans being accompanied by policy conditions.


Read more: When the IMF comes to town: why they visit and what to watch out for


In this episode of The Conversation Weekly, we speak with two researchers about the impact of IMF loans on recipient countries and why countries continue to rely on IMF loans. We also discuss potential alternatives to this system.

a plaque on a building showing the IMF logo and the text INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND
The International Monetary Fund has 190 member countries. (Shutterstock)

Ongoing impact of colonialism

Danny Bradlow, a professor of international development law and African economic relations and senior fellow at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, highlights the harmful effects of IMF-imposed austerity measures.

The ongoing impact of colonialism means many countries in the Global South “were in a very dire situation to begin with,” Bradlow explains. “The IMF said if you follow our policy prescriptions, things will turn around and you’ll do much better.”

The measures imposed by the IMF limited access to healthcare and education for poorer people. Throughout the 1980s, the IMF pressured country after country — in what’s often known as Structural Adjustment Programs — with lasting damage on economies and populations.

The policy measures dictated by the IMF also had detrimental environmental consequences. To encourage economic growth, many countries were pressured to shift “from producing food to producing agricultural products that you could sell on the global markets,” Bradlow says. “Often that meant you were using more environmentally damaging fertilizers, or you were doing extractive mining projects that were environmentally damaging. In some cases it was logging, so countries would tear down forests.”

Prolonged debt and austerity

Attiya Waris is associate professor of fiscal law and policy at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, and an expert on foreign debt and international financial obligations and their implications for human rights.

As part of her work, Waris sheds light on the experiences of Argentina and Pakistan. Both countries have received multiple loans since the 1950s to address economic challenges such as inflation, currency devaluation, and external debt crises. Argentina currently holds the highest outstanding debt of US$46 billion, while Pakistan ranks fifth with US$7.4 billion.

“Pakistan is one of 14 countries across the world that has a loan with the IMF that has a surcharge on it. A surcharge means that if you are paying a 1% interest rate and you default on your payments, then you’ll be paying 3%. So you’re being penalized for being unable to pay,” Waris explains. This in turn increases the likelihood of prolonged debt and austerity.

But for Waris, one of the biggest problems is that the contracts around IMF loans are extremely opaque, meaning it’s difficult to hold the institution to account or even evaluate what impact it has beyond the austerity measures.

a woman draped in a black, yellow and red — the colours of the Ugandan flag — shouts at a protest
Demonstrators with the ‘People Power Movement,’ protesting the Ugandan government, join protests outside of the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings on April 14, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

“This is problematic because there can be no societal oversight over what a group of human beings in their country are deciding to take on, on their behalf,” she says. “Representative, democratic or otherwise, people need to know what their governments are doing on their behalf.”

For Bradlow there are signs for positive change. A recent research paper shows that the IMF acknowledges some of the devastating impacts it has had on countries. In the paper, it identifies areas of enhanced focus, including climate change, gender, inequality, and social protection. However, while the IMF has adapted its focus and policies to address some of the negative consequences, it remains uncertain how it will achieve these goals.


Read more: Government debt won't necessarily burden future generations – but austerity will


The Conversation has reached out to the International Monetary Fund for comment regarding the issues covered in this episode and is awaiting response.

Listen to the full episode of The Conversation Weekly to learn more about the impact of IMF loans on recipient nations, the potential benefits of allocating funds for public services in the Global South, and the importance of implementing accountability mechanisms within the IMF.


This episode was written and produced by Mend Mariwany, who is also the executive producer of The Conversation Weekly. Eloise Stevens does our sound design, and our theme music is by Neeta Sarl.

You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also subscribe to The Conversation’s free daily email here.

Listen to “The Conversation Weekly” via any of the apps listed above, download it directly via our RSS feed or find out how else to listen here.

Attiya Waris does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Danny Bradlow receives funding from South Africa’s National Research Foundation. He does not work for, consult or own shares from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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Another country is getting ready to launch a visa for digital nomads

Early reports are saying Japan will soon have a digital nomad visa for high-earning foreigners.

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Over the last decade, the explosion of remote work that came as a result of improved technology and the pandemic has allowed an increasing number of people to become digital nomads. 

When looked at more broadly as anyone not required to come into a fixed office but instead moves between different locations such as the home and the coffee shop, the latest estimate shows that there were more than 35 million such workers in the world by the end of 2023 while over half of those come from the United States.

Related: There is a new list of cities that are best for digital nomads

While remote work has also allowed many to move to cheaper places and travel around the world while still bringing in income, working outside of one's home country requires either dual citizenship or work authorization — the global shift toward remote work has pushed many countries to launch specific digital nomad visas to boost their economies and bring in new residents.

Japan is a very popular destination for U.S. tourists. 

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This popular vacation destination will soon have a nomad visa

Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Latvia and Malta are some of the countries currently offering specific visas for foreigners who want to live there while bringing in income from abroad.

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With the exception of a few, Asian countries generally have stricter immigration laws and were much slower to launch these types of visas that some of the countries with weaker economies had as far back as 2015. As first reported by the Japan Times, the country's Immigration Services Agency ended up making the leap toward a visa for those who can earn more than ¥10 million ($68,300 USD) with income from another country.

The Japanese government has not yet worked out the specifics of how long the visa will be valid for or how much it will cost — public comment on the proposal is being accepted throughout next week. 

That said, early reports say the visa will be shorter than the typical digital nomad option that allows foreigners to live in a country for several years. The visa will reportedly be valid for six months or slightly longer but still no more than a year — along with the ability to work, this allows some to stay beyond the 90-day tourist period typically afforded to those from countries with visa-free agreements.

'Not be given a residence card of residence certificate'

While one will be able to reapply for the visa after the time runs out, this can only be done by exiting the country and being away for six months before coming back again — becoming a permanent resident on the pathway to citizenship is an entirely different process with much more strict requirements.

"Those living in Japan with the digital nomad visa will not be given a residence card or a residence certificate, which provide access to certain government benefits," reports the news outlet. "The visa cannot be renewed and must be reapplied for, with this only possible six months after leaving the countr

The visa will reportedly start in March and also allow holders to bring their spouses and families with them. To start using the visa, holders will also need to purchase private health insurance from their home country while taxes on any money one earns will also need to be paid through one's home country.

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