Breaking: DNDi Founder Bernard Pécoul Steps Down After 19 Years
Bernard Pecoul Luis Pizzaro
Dr Bernard Pécoul (left) and new DNDi Executive Director Luis Pizarro. Photo by Kenny Mbala / DNDi

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), one of the most important nonprofit drug developers in the world, has appointed a new leader to fill the shoes of its outgoing founder.

Dr Luis Pizarro, a Chilean-French doctor and global health expert, will serve as DNDi’s new executive director, succeeding DNDi founder Dr Bernard Pécoul, who has led the Geneva-based organisation for the past 19 years.

Pécoul said he was confident that Pizarro can fulfil the organisation’s promise to deliver 25 new treatments in its first 25 years through cross-regional collaboration, innovation in low- and middle-income countries, South-South cooperation, and better clinical research in endemic regions.

“Luis is the ideal person to lead that effort,” said Pécoul.

Twelve new treatments for six neglected diseases

DNDi launched in 2003 in response to the frustration felt by front-line researchers and doctors that drugs for neglected diseases were ineffective, unsafe, and unaffordable – or nonexistent.

Only 1% of new drugs developed between 1975 and 2000 could be used to treat neglected illnesses, even though they accounted for 11% of the global disease burden then.

When Médecins Sans Frontières won the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize for its pioneering humanitarian work on several continents, it chose to dedicate a portion of its prize money to helping to create a new nonprofit model for developing drugs for neglected populations, giving rise to DNDi.

Pécoul, fresh off leading the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines after founding it in 1998, was tapped to take the lead.

He has since overseen projects and partnerships spanning the globe that have developed and delivered 12 new treatments for six deadly neglected diseases including sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, hepatitis C, Chagas and a landmark malaria treatment.

DNDi‘s treatments are developed as public goods, so they are affordable and have no patents, making them available for production by any generic drug manufacturer that meets quality standards.

Twenty five Treatments in 25 Years

Dr. Luis Pizzaro, new Executive Director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Intiative. Photo by Kenny Mbala / DNDi

Under Pizarro’s leadership, DNDi has the ambitious goal of delivering another 13 treatments by 2028. But while Pécoul started from scratch, Pizarro takes over an organisation that now has more than 250 employees located across nine hubs in Africa, South-East and East Asia, North and Latin America, and 200 public-private partners.

As the first CEO of Solthis from 2007 until 2019, an international health organization dedicated to increasing access to care for HIV, and recent manager of Unitaid’s HIV portfolio, Pizarro has seen the urgency of the challenges faced by those DNDi was set up to help. 

“We have seen that during social and economic crises, the most neglected populations are always the ones that suffer the most,” he told Health Policy Watch.

“Neglected diseases are fuelling a vicious circle of poverty, as degraded socio-economic conditions lead to an increased prevalence of diseases, which translates into loss of income and education opportunities, and ultimately more poverty.”

Building on DNDi‘s success in establishing strong working partnerships with global pharmaceutical companies, academic, and research institutions, Pizarro says DNDi is ready to rise to the occasion.

“More than ever, there is a need for patient-centric and not-for-profit drug development models like DNDi”, he said. “I look forward to working with the DNDi team to bring like-minded stakeholders together and advance medical innovation in pursuit of our common vision: to deliver the best science to the most neglected populations.”

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