On November 11, 2014, the Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT) Fund and the Embassy of Japan convened a panel of leading global health experts in London. Chaired by Dr. Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine and GHIT Board Member, the event represented a collective call for greater cross-border and cross-sector collaboration to ensure global preparedness for the inevitable resurgence of infectious diseases that disproportionally affect the poorest of the poor in developing countries. A series of presentations and interactive panels articulated the need for partnerships in global health and explored the challenges associated with R&D for infectious diseases.
The Honorable Mr. Keiichi Hayashi, Ambassador of Japan to the United Kingdom, opened the meeting with an immediate call to action, noting the urgency for global health R&D that the current Ebola epidemic illustrates. He also reiterated Japan’s commitment to leveraging its technology, capacity, and expertise in support of global health solutions—a commitment clearly embodied in the GHIT Fund’s mission and vision.
To help participants understand the GHIT Fund’s role as both a Japanese and an international institution, CEO and Executive Director Dr. BT Slingsby explained GHIT’s business model, provided background for its mission and vision, and articulated the rationale for investing in infectious diseases of the developing world. In addition, he illustrated the need for greater investment and action using the recent resurgence of Dengue fever in Japan as an example.
Another of GHIT’s diseases of focus is Malaria, which sickens more than 200 million people annually and kills more than 600,000 mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa. In some endemic countries, the disease accounts for up to 40% of public health expenditures. In a keynote address, Dr. Sir Brian Greenwood, Professor of Clinical Tropical Medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, offered a detailed look at the malaria burden, as well as challenges to global elimination efforts. He outlined the contextual and technical factors around tackling the disease and explained how these can only truly be addressed through global partnerships. He concluded that whilst there has been considerable progress in malaria control in the past decade, the gains are fragile and threatened by resistance. Additionally, while there is an increasing focus on elimination in low transmission settings, Dr. Greenwood highlighted the ongoing need for significant work on controlling malaria in the high transmission areas where most deaths occur and where modest gains have been achieved.
“GHIT’s November 11th event demonstrated the Fund’s flying start and the fact that it is already having an impact, bringing together Japanese companies and academic institutions to develop new therapeutic and preventive measures for diseases prevalent in low income countries,” he added.
Following Dr. Greenwood’s keynote, Dr. Piot chaired a panel session on the role of partnerships in fostering innovation around new tools for malaria and other diseases primarily affecting the poorest of the poor. Panellists included Dr. Sir Roy Anderson, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College London; Dr. Simon Croft, Professor of Parasitology and Dean of the Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Dr. Tim Wells, Chief Scientific Officer for Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV); and Dr. Eiji Hinoshita, Director of International Cooperation for the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (and GHIT Board Member). The conversation drew from speakers’ personal perspectives and experiences with major partnerships.
Reflecting on new partnerships with Japanese pharmaceutical companies, Dr. Wells noted that sometimes the main hurdles are a catalyst or a way in. “GHIT helped us open up the door to extremely fruitful collaborations in Japan which were simply not possible before,” he said. “Now we are able to leverage Japanese expertise in product development and formulation, as well as start new screening programs in Japan, which is really important since Japanese companies historically have been very strong in the discovery of new medicines to combat infection.”
Next, the agenda took a deep dive into a GHIT development partnership case study featuring high-level perspectives on the collaboration from both the industry and academic research perspectives. The partnership, between the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and the Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai Co., Ltd., aims to develop new drugs to target lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) and onchocerciasis (river blindness).
Lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis are infections caused by parasitic worms and affect more than 150 million people globally. These diseases could be eliminated, but only with a drug that can kill adult parasites. Research conducted by the University of Liverpool and LSTM has demonstrated that adult worms can be killed by eliminating a bacterium they contain called Wolbachia, and the LSTM-Eisai partnership has enabled testing of a large library of compounds for their ability to kill the bacterium. With the GHIT Fund’s investment, the most promising drug candidates will proceed through advanced rounds of chemical modification and testing to identify lead candidate compounds that have a good safety and efficacy profiles ready to move into pre-clinical testing. Eisai aims to make new, approved treatments available as early as possible to patients with filariasis and thereby further increase the healthcare benefits provided to these patients and their families in developing and emerging countries. Dr. Stephen Ward, Walter Myers Professor of Parasitology and Deputy Director of LSTM,shared his journey through the GHIT funding process and outlined lessons learned for other researchers.
Dr. Fabian Gusovsky, Executive Director of Eisai’s CSO Group shared comments on the role of the private sector in the process, noting that "GHIT funding has allowed Eisai to initiate and implement several partnerships focused on new drugs and vaccines for tropical illnesses. Both our partners and Eisai enthusiastically adopted the GHIT-driven ‘product focused vision’ as a means to drive new technologies to market."
Professor Piot echoed these views, noting that the threat of resurging global epidemics, such as Ebola, has highlighted the possibility of accelerating drug development when there is a critical need and the failure of the current commercial R&D model to keep up with the moving targets of infectious diseases. He added that a global coordinated effort between the public and private sectors is vital in order to address the potential damage that these diseases can have on societies and economies. Professor Piot also noted that political will, public awareness, additional resources, and sound science are all important factors that enable us to educate, prevent, treat and eventually eliminate many of the diseases that affect the developing world.
Finally, Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, GHIT Fund Board Chair, Professor at the Japanese National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, and Science Advisor to the Cabinet of Japan, offered a set of inspirational concluding remarks, calling on every sector to recognize the valuable role it has to play and to partner accordingly—not just across sectors, but across borders, too—to maximize impact and improve health and economic prosperity for all.