CEO Blog: The World's Biggest Health Care Challenge

Tackling the subject of improving health is complex and to know where we can have the most effect, sparks a lengthy and challenging debate. As the world continues to evolve, science will continue to offer exciting new discoveries. But it will also see the appearance of new diseases, the evolution of existing diseases and the re-emergence of old diseases to continually challenge the state of our health. However, for me, it is chronic disease that is the biggest healthcare challenge facing us, which has been largely unforeseen and is not being addressed adequately.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and mental disorders represent 60% all deaths. This is expected to rise to 73% by 2020. Risk factors like obesity, which are directly linked to diabetes and cancer, are spreading. More cancers are being found in the developing world and there is to be an expected increase of 50% worldwide by 2050. Africa will have the highest increase in diabetes over the next 20 years and at present we estimate that 80% are undiagnosed in the continent.


We have developed vaccines and treatments that protect and save millions of lives daily.

As leaders in our industry, we invest on average 15-20% of our turnover per annum, way above the norm for many other industries. Just last year, we invested over 4bn last year.

But, equally, we have also acknowledged that bringing innovative preventive and treatment therapies is not enough. As a company, we are already committed to going beyond drugs. We have implemented a strategy to ensure that while we continue to bring innovative solutions to patients based on drug development, we diversify to provide services and technologies that will have a holistic impact on health in the future.

For example, we can prevent up to 80% of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes and cancer through behavioral & pharma interventions. We operate in over 100 countries and beyond delivering treatments, we have acted as instigators of change by supporting governments and institutions put effective strategies and policies in place to prevent and manage disease including awareness and education campaigns, training for healthcare professionals etc. We also partner internationally to drive chronic disease up the political agenda

At the same time, we are diversifying our business to ensure that we have the tools to help treat these diseases. Look at diabetes. We have over 80 years experience in treating diabetes. We are now looking at how we can help patients beyond treatment and have developed the first blood glucose meter that will help the patient calculate how much insulin he/she needs, which will be launched in 2011. This was a simple idea, but no one had ever been able to do it and it will change the lives of patients everywhere.

We will continue of course to draw on our traditional strength – innovative research is the cornerstone of our company.

There has been astounding advances in medicine and treatment but there is huge work to be done.

We have therefore refocused totally our approach to R&D.

We need to go back to the basics in terms of really understanding the patient and the disease as a unity. We ensure that we now start with the patient and the unmet needs. We then look, internally and externally, for the best science and we move forward together. We have completed over 30 research partnerships in the past two years with a range of biotechs, universities and research institutions. We concentrate research on both a roadmap of risk i.e. the disease mechanisms and innovative treatments through translational medicine.

The most important words for me in the advancement of healthcare are partnership and innovation. Innovative strategies and policies, innovative partnerships, innovative research. We have the tools and resources to really make a difference, we are creating partnerships to really make it happen and I am confident that we will succeed in continuing to make a real difference to the lives of billions of patients, everywhere.

Chris Viehbacher is the Chief Executive Officer of Sanofi-aventis