Innovation and collaboration are core to progress in global health

Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory analyzes data from a metagenomic sample. Photo by: Argonne National Laboratory / CC BY-NC-SA

When it comes to saving and improving the quality of lives of the world’s most vulnerable, I’ve learned throughout my career that innovation and collaboration are part of the DNA that makes up advances in global health.

While working with the Human Genome Project, I saw firsthand the ingenuity that resulted when people from multiple disciplines — including engineers, molecular biologists, chemists and computer programmers — came together to fully sequence the human genome. This collaborative effort sped innovation with transformative implications: encouraging data transparency within science and unravelling the code to how and why people become ill. These implications, in turn, promoted a cycle of global research that is collaborative in nature and continues today, leading to many more discoveries that benefit humanity as well as individual patients suffering from — or at risk of — diseases.

The project is just one incredible example of collaborative models that have a lasting positive impact on the global health community. The importance of working together in global health has been at the heart of Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to innovate and develop products that address and solve critical unmet global health needs. After all, what use are innovative research, medicines, diagnostics and medical devices if they are inaccessible to the people who need them?

Medicine that treats multidrug-resistant tuberculosis cannot help the near 500,000 MDR-TB patients worldwide if we don’t have the means to quickly diagnose their condition or if they live too far from a medical clinic that could provide lifesaving treatment. New treatments cannot benefit the 3.2 million children living with HIV if they cannot access them. A new, chewable formulation of a medicine that treats intestinal worms in children cannot make a difference if we can’t reach the close to 1 billion children at risk of infection. And what good is lifesaving information for millions of expectant mothers living in developing countries if health workers don’t have the tools needed to educate them?

Healthy means partnership at every level to develop fully integrated medical solutions for environments where the need is great, but resources are few. This applies to developing new treatments in research labs, to strengthening health systems, to increasing access and affordability of lifesaving medicines. Our partnerships with nonprofits including the Stop TB Partnership, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action are helping foster innovative approaches and increase access to new medicines and new technological solutions to help patients in resource-limited settings live healthier lives. We also are collaborating on HIV research with partners such as PATH and sharing clinical trial information with the scientific community in a novel agreement with the Yale School of Medicine’s Open Data Access project.

Most recently, the Ebola crisis has thrust the importance of collaboration in the global health community into the spotlight. If we are to stop the spread of Ebola, save patients and protect those at greatest risk of infection, we must coordinate across a spectrum of partners — governments, global health authorities, nonprofit organizations, civil society and industry.  

Johnson & Johnson is committed to meeting our responsibility to help address this urgent crisis. Working in partnership with the global health community, we are mobilizing our resources to significantly accelerate the clinical testing, development, production and distribution of a vaccine regimen. We are aiming at having 250,000 vaccines ready for application in broad clinical trials by May 2015 and one million vaccines by the end of 2015. While the development of a new treatment takes time, organizations like Direct Relief International, Partners in Health, AmeriCares, and Project HOPE are able to act immediately. Our commitment extends to supporting these efforts as well as those by public health authorities like the CDC Foundation and the World Health Organization.

We also must continue working to ensure that already strained health systems in countries ravaged by Ebola will ultimately be strengthened over the long term to deal with preventable diseases such as malaria and HIV.

Like in science, individual efforts to solve complex problems can extend the benefits of innovation only so far. But through effective partnerships, collaborative engagement and coordinated deployment of resources, we are able to enhance our impact, and contribute to significantly improving the quality of life for millions of the most vulnerable patients — now and in the future.

Want to learn more? Check out the Healthy Means campaign site and tweet us using #HealthyMeans.

Healthy Means is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Concern Worldwide, Gavi, GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund to showcase new ideas and ways we can work together to expand health care and live better lives.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Seema Kumar

    Seema is a member of the communications leadership council at Johnson & Johnson and responsible for communicating the company’s commitment to innovation and global health. She works closely with Johnson & Johnson chief scientific officer and worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals, Dr. Paul Stoffels, as well as communication leaders in Corporate and R&D. Seema also serves as the communication leader for the Worldwide R&D Council and several innovation centers.