Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Leaders in science and health - Transformers in Life

The Global Health Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to deliver existing vaccines, drugs, and the creation or application of other tools to reduce impacts of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and polio, and other diseases worldwide. What began in 1999 as a focused effort to expand access to existing vaccines that were underused in poor countries has become a multi-billion dollar effort with a grant portfolio which alone covers more than $14 billion dollars in grants. The Global Health Program embodies innovation and philanthropy, and represents the far ends of what can be achieved when ingenuity, science technology, and the will to help the underserved is combined. How did they get here so quickly, and do what they did so successfully?

I won’t argue that unfettered access to Gates’ money helps – a little. But so does the employment of highly qualified leaders in key positions that can manage, define, and propel strategies for new directions. For the past five years, the program has been lead by President Tachi Yamada. Prior to arriving at the Gates Foundation, Yamada headed the drug research and development group for Glaxo – a significant pharma player in the Gates Foundation’s work in vaccine and drug health. He’s a doctor, and a knight – YES, a KNIGHT! (He was knighted as Knight Commander of the British Empire for his contributions to medical research in Britain.) To succeed Yamada is Trevor Mundel, who ran clinical trials for Novartis and held significant management positions prior to his time there at a smattering of other pharma companies.

What drove the Program’s success? Was it the clearly defined strategies that are outlined for each arm of disease Gates has prioritized? ( http://www.gatesfoundation.org/global-health/Pages/global-health-strategies.aspx.) Again, money? It all has contributed to the success of the programs, obviously, but if you take a close look at the diversified but highly intensive scientific and business experiences specifically in the pharma world by these two leaders, I would say that good pickin’s was perhaps the most important driver in delivering the Program to the success it sees today.

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