At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week, I met with world and healthcare leaders to discuss the impact of serious health challenges on emerging economies - and new models for innovating medicines and methods of working that would help to solve them.
With all the medical advancements we enjoy today in the developed world, it can be easy to forget the health plight of the world’s poorest. One billion people, including 500 million children, suffer from chronic, disabling neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that disable, disfigure, and sometimes kill. They also prevent adults and families from working their way out of poverty and keep children out of school. The impact of NTDs on economic advancement is enormous.
Over the past twenty years, individual companies and healthcare organizations have made significant progress in addressing NTDs, but these efforts have never been coordinated on a global scale or deployed in a collaborative way. This week in an unprecedented worldwide effort against NTDs, leaders of global pharmaceutical companies, health and aid organizations, NGOs and governments, have formed the largest ever coalition to provide the resources needed to eliminate five diseases and control five other NTDs by 2020. Working together, we will establish new public-private partnerships, boost research and development, increase drug donations, provide new funding and support implementation programs.
Our aim is to tap areas of respective core expertise to drive innovation, coordinate philanthropy, build healthcare capacity and support deliver of medicines.
New models for working together like this one are critical to making real progress against any serious public challenge, but the real keys to success lie in the ability to innovate. With more effective medicines that better address the limitations imposed by mass dosing initiatives, it becomes possible to achieve more in less time. From a social and economic perspective, the payoff in years of productive life is enormous and the implication for the cost of treatment and deployment resources is also significant.
"It’s rare for the world's leading pharmaceutical companies and other partners to work together to tackle an urgent global health issue. It’s time for this to change and our new coordinated effort – unlike previous siloed, disease-by-disease approaches – is the first step.""
During his lifetime, world renowned Johnson & Johnson researcher Dr. Paul Janssen developed flubendazole, an effective treatment for parasites of the stomach and intestines. As part of the NTD initiative, Johnson & Johnson- together with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and two pharmaceutical industry partners - has committed to repurpose flubendazole as a potential treatment for NTDs that affect the eyes and other tissues. If we’re successful, flubendazole would kill both the adults and the larval parasites that cause these diseases. It would make the diseases vastly easier to control by significantly cutting the number of treatment cycles required to kill all the parasites - from as many as 15 years to just two or three.
Historically speaking, it’s rare for the world's leading pharmaceutical companies and other partners to work together to tackle an urgent global health issue. It’s time for this to change and our new coordinated effort – unlike previous siloed, disease-by-disease approaches – is the first step. The next step is to continue to prioritize and incent the innovation that can help to cut the cost and improve the effectiveness of medical treatment. Together, we can fill critical gaps and simultaneously address issues including drug supply and delivery, research and development and infrastructure. Together, we can change the future of healthcare.
Dr. Paul Stoffels is Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals at Johnson & Johnson, with responsibility for research and development, business development and global strategy and innovation. Johnson & Johnson embraces research and science -- bringing innovative ideas, products and services to advance the health and well-being of people.