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GHIT Fund celebrates historic beginning of Japanese R&D initiative in global health

YOKOHAMA, Japan Leading Japanese pharmaceutical companies, along with the Japanese government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pledged their commitment to bolster Japan's contribution to global health through the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund), at a press conference held as a side event to the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V).

Representatives from each of the partners including the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and five Japanese pharmaceutical companies (Astellas Pharma Inc.; Daiichi Sankyo Co., Ltd.; Eisai Co., Ltd.; Shionogi & Co., Ltd.; and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited) engaged in a discussion about the importance of advancing new healthcare technologies for developing nations, and the social impact that the GHIT Fund would have on global healthcare.

"The GHIT Fund is an exciting enterprise with enormous potential to speed up creation of a pipeline of medical health technologies and tools for Africa and much of the developing world," said Dr. BT Slingsby, Executive Director and CEO of the GHIT Fund, who opened the event.

The GHIT Fund aims to utilize the highly developed science and technology capacity found at the country's pharmaceutical companies, universities and research institutions. In providing grants for promising research, the Fund will help bridge the gap between basic research and clinical studies, allowing for unprecedented medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics.

"Innovation has become a key concept for growth and development. We believe the pharmaceutical companies and the academia in Japan have the potential to make the contributions in global health by innovating new technologies to secure access to new medicines for people in developing countries," said Dr. Kazushi Yamauchi, from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

As panelists discussed their strategic reasons for joining the GHIT Fund, many pointed out the importance of this unique partnership between the Japanese government, the Gates Foundation, and the private sector.

"The involvement of the private sector is definitely a must for the next framework, and from that perspective, this cooperative effort definitely fits Japan's direction with regards to the post-2015 development agenda," said Shinichi Iida of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"We would like to contribute to access to health by utilizing our strengths, such as discovering innovative medicines or advanced formulation technology. However, partnership would be key for success in this field, and in order to develop our activities, we'd like to continuously work with multiple stakeholders," said Masafumi Nogimori, Representative Director and Chairman of the Board of Astellas Pharma Inc.

One recurring theme was the pharmaceutical industry's responsibility to improve access to healthcare to patients not just in Japan, but around the world, and especially in developing countries.

"We are joining the GHIT Fund, not because we expect immediate return on investment, but for overall improvement of health and welfare in these developing countries where healthcare access, disease control, and disease management are problems," said Yasuchikawa Hasegawa, President and CEO of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited.

"Our contribution to global health is a long-term investment to future market growth," said Haruo Naito, President and CEO of Eisai Co., Ltd. "Improving access to medicine, which consists of four elements, is not straightforward. Availability of the drug to the patients; affordability drug should be affordable by society; adoption even if the drug is available and affordable, people should be willing to take those medicines; architecture basic medical infrastructures, hygiene, water supplies are very important. The industry itself can do a bit within those four pillars, but we need partnership to overcome these issues."

Panelists also expressed their hopes for accelerating drug development and contributing to global health by tapping into Japan's technologies and resources.

"In developing countries, the barrier to lifesaving health technologies is incredibly high," said Trevor Mundel, President of Global Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Fortunately, through this new initiative Japan's technological prowess will now help solve some of the toughest scientific challenges related to treating and preventing malaria, TB, HIV, and many neglected diseases that impact the poorest of the world the most."

"I see many innovations and technologies and capable people here in Japan," said Joji Nakayama, President and CEO of Daiichi Sankyo Co., Ltd., who urged for better and more powerful solutions to accelerate drug development for global health. "It's a wonderful idea to utilize these Japanese assets to contribute to and accelerate drug development for global health."

Isao Teshirogi, President and CEO of Shionogi & Co., Ltd., also pointed out the limited R&D budgets of most pharmaceutical companies, with funding being a major issue when new projects were proposed. "But if we could come up with some interesting projects for neglected tropical diseases, this Fund can be a very good opportunity to receive funding and facilitate development. That way, we are able to send products to developing countries as early as possible," said Teshirogi.

The event was concluded with closing remarks from Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Representative Director and Chairman of the GHIT Fund. "It is a great time for this public-private partnership to advance, and it is our collective responsibility to deliver what we can through the GHIT Fund," said Dr. Kurokawa.


Contact: Emily Koh
Burness Communications

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