The Power of Partnerships in Advancing Global Health
IFPMA Director-General David Reddy (right) in an interview with journalist Shiulie Ghosh on Tuesday, May 28.

GENEVA – Partnerships between industry, multilateral organizations, and other stakeholders are essential to overcoming challenges and improving access to innovations.

This was the key message at an International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA) event on Tuesday evening, held on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva. The gathering brought together representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, government officials, and industry leaders to discuss how these partnerships can be enhanced to deliver meaningful impact for people and healthcare systems worldwide.

The event featured an interview with David Reddy, the newly appointed Director-General of IFPMA and former CEO of Medicines for Malaria Ventures who took over from Thomas Cueni in April. IFPMA, the global pharmaceutical trade organization, works with the WHO and other UN bodies, representing over 90 companies and associations, including industry giants like Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca.

Reddy, who has been in his new role for fewer than two months, described drug development as a process of “assembling information that wraps around a molecule,” from animal safety studies to patient behaviour, infection treatment and manufacturing quality. This information then undergoes regulatory review to ensure the drug’s efficacy.

The complex nature of drug development means pharmaceutical companies must work closely with multilateral organizations to ensure their drugs are distributed and accessible, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. However, there is often tension between the high cost of developing innovative medicines and vaccines and the basic health needs of populations that may be unable to afford them.

This is where partnerships are crucial. “It’s really important just to underscore that it’s not something that we, as an industry, can do alone. We can only do it in partnership.”

Reddy quoted WHO Deputy Director-General Mike Ryan, who said that industry and the UN health body agree on 80% of things in global health and may differ on 20%. Ryan has urged focusing on the 80% agreement to make progress.

“It doesn’t mean we should ignore the areas of difference. We should debate them,” Reddy said. “But don’t forget that we are so aligned in so many ways.”

The monoclonal antibody revolution

Covid-19 monoclonal antibodies

Reddy also spoke about drug and vaccine innovation, using the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines as an example.

“They were there just when they were needed, but they were there because of two decades of work. Companies were able to partner together and really accelerate getting them to people to prevent them from becoming patients,” Reddy explained. Innovation, he said, “just takes a long time” and costs money.

Looking to the future, Reddy sees great potential in monoclonal antibodies, conjugated antibodies, mRNA technology, and individualized therapy, all underpinned by artificial intelligence.

“We’re living in the monoclonal [antibody] revolution if you like,” he said. “Not globally yet. In terms of access, that is something this industry is really working on at this time.”

AI could revolutionize drug development by enabling researchers to precisely select molecules that have the potential to become medicines, chart more efficient pathways, and significantly compress development timelines, Reddy added.

Gavi: Partnerships crucial as health budgets tighten 

From left: Shiulie Ghosh, journalist; Minister Ong Ye Kung, minister of health of Singapore; Dr. Catharina Boehme, assistant director-general of External Relations and Governance for WHO; and Deborah Waterhouse, the CEO of ViiV Healthcare and the president of Global Health for GSK.

Dr Sania Nishtar, the recently appointed CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, also spoke about the importance of partnerships from her perspective, especially in the current climate, which she described as “a very resource-restrained time for global health”.

Between competing priorities and ongoing conflicts in different parts of the world, the G7 is stretched,” Nishtar said. “We in the global health space must hear this loud and clear.”

Nishtar’s remarks took place against the backdrop of the WHO’s new “Investment Round” initiative, aiming to raise $7 billion to make the organization’s funding more predictable, flexible, and sustainable. The total contributions of WHO member states are just $4 billion annually.

Public health expenditure across OECD countries surged by an average of 17% in real terms between 2019 and 2021, as governments rapidly allocated resources to tackle the crisis. Prevention spending more than doubled due to extensive testing and vaccination efforts.

In 2022, however, health spending across OECD countries declined by an average of 1.5%. With inflation expected to remain above 5% in 2024, compared to less than 2% in 2019, nominal increases will be considerably reduced.

The pandemic led to increased health spending as a percentage of GDP in low- and middle-income countries, but not as much as in advanced economies. A recent Center for Global Development report suggests this increase is unlikely to be sustained due to the pandemic’s impact on revenues and budgets.

Slow domestic revenue growth has already made achieving health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 unlikely, and without new funding sources, meeting these goals will be further delayed.

“We had 40 countries decrease their healthcare spending last year. Healthcare budgets are going down instead of up,” said Dr Catharina Boehme, assistant director-general of External Relations and Governance for WHO. “To harness the promise of science and innovation, we have to focus on creating capacity and making sure health funding remains intact.”

Partnerships, Nishtar added, are in Gavi’s DNA, working closely with WHO, UNICEF, and industry to build synergies.

“Solutions can be found when we work together,” she continued. “And we can only work together when we let go of ego, turf, rivalries and small thinking.”

Image Credits: Raisa/Flickr.

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