The American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) established a Pharmaceuticals in Global Health Focus Group in 2009 to raise awareness among the pharmaceutical development and manufacturing community about global health issues. The focus group is advocating for the inclusion of global health topics in all AAPS activities, including programming at meetings, strengthening networking opportunities among members and other professional organizations, and promoting educational and training programs for students about global health.
The focus group grew out of a larger AAPS task force on global health, and after speaking to the chair-elect, Kishor M. Wasan, it's clear that this group is not only serious about its goals, but also extremely passionate about why it's focusing on global health. Wasan is a professor and distinguished university scholar in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and the director and cofounder of the university's Neglected Global Diseases Initiative.
"Now is the time to have this discussion and this group," says Wasan, offering a host of reasons why. Industry—and the world, for that matter—have changed dramatically during the past 15 years or so, he explains. For starters, the influx in the late 1990s of nongovernmental organizations led to a major social change. "We didn't have the Gates Foundation, or the Clinton initiative before the 1990s. We didn't have targeted programs for diseases in developing countries, or World Health Organization indicators for fighting neglected diseases. These programs have provided global funds for research and projects that deal with worldwide infectious disease and with problems that were being neglected," he explains.That's only half of the story. Social media has made a huge difference in bringing the world together to discuss and work on broad challenges such as global health. "We can Skype with laboratories in Uganda, there are diagnoses being done with individuals in Kenya via cell phones, we can coordinate a project with people in 14 or 15 countries at a time," he says. And this technology has engaged young people, adds Wasan, who has witnessed first-hand in his University of British Columbia students the excitement about the limitless opportunities that exist today. "They feel the world as a closer place. They want to tackle these types of problems, and the problems are more accessible to them."
Indeed, global diseases are starting to touch lives in the developed world. Air travel, for example, has brought some new parasitic cases from developing countries into developed countries. But there's also a larger concern today for diseases that affect developing nations because the world's economies are so integrated. "If China, for instance, has some serious health issues, it's going to affect their productivity, which affects our productivity," explains Wasan. "It's beneficial to everyone to improve health on a global level."
For all these reasons, Big Pharma has decided that it wants global health and access programs, says Wasan. He admits that there are some politics that have gone into this decision, but at the end of the day, industry is doing more to saves lives, he says Wasan.
Some of the target areas that the AAPS Pharmaceuticals in Global Health Focus Group plans to address through educational and networking programs include: the development of treatments, vaccines, and diagnostics for neglected diseases; assuring the quality and safety of active pharmaceutical ingredients and drug products that are produced and sold throughout the world; the development of vaccine formulations that are stable without a cold chain; small-molecule formulations that can withstand the rigors of tropical environments; and assuring that developing-country populations have access to routinely used vaccines, medicines, and diagnostics.
A key component of the focus group's work, explains Wasan, is to highlight the technical aspects of global health efforts. "Eighty percent of our members are industrial scientists," he says. "They want to know, for example, how to make a drug that is stable in a tropical environment. They want to know how to make an oral formulation versus a parenteral (which also can be applied to countries in the developed world). Overall, our goal is to address the global healthcare and pharmaceutical issue while also tackling topics that are of interest to the scientific community so that they can apply what they've learned."
AAPS plans to address these challenges through one of the most basic forms of communication—dialogue. "We have all these groups coming to meetings and we have members around the globe," says Wasan. "Innovation occurs by people talking, and we can coordinate that."
The focus group also plans to get young people involved. "These problems are not going to be solved in our lifetime," says Wasan. "They are generational, and the kids who are in school now are going to be the ones that will have the energy to carry out solutions."
The next global health focus group meeting is taking place at the October 2011 AAPS annual meeting in Washington, DC.