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Telma Lery

European Therapeutic Area Lead – Infectious Diseases and Vaccines, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Janssen

Close collaboration between industry, governments and healthcare is crucial to fight back against the threat deadly infectious diseases are posing to the global population.

Infectious diseases are a clear threat to mankind as they evolve, spread and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable.

Of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, 30% are infectious diseases. That rises to 60% in developing countries.

However, Telma Lery, European Therapeutic Area Lead – Infectious Diseases and Vaccines for Janssen, says there are actions that industry, government and healthcare professionals can take to fight back against this threat.

Sustainable healthcare

Immunisation is widely recognised as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions, but well thought out public health policies, increased understanding of the modifiable risk factors and population lifestyle changes to make people less vulnerable to the effects of infectious diseases are also vital.

“Minimising the transmission of infectious diseases is a core function of public health,” says Lery, who also underlined prevention as a key pillar for sustainable healthcare.

“Its relevance is increasing as infectious diseases continue to spread more easily due to the trends of globalisation, population growth and aging, the development of megacities, climate change and increasing antimicrobial resistance.”

Yet while the COVID-19 pandemic has created a major global public health crisis, there are numerous other ongoing conditions that need attention.

Therapeutic & Vaccine development

Janssen, as the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson, has a focus on discovering and developing novel therapeutics and vaccines to help prevent and treat infectious diseases.

It has a long history in the area and has engaged in fighting disease and global pandemics for over a century from the 1918 flu pandemic through to developing a preventive solution to COVID-19.

That has also included Ebola, which can rapidly spread to cause an outbreak; Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), with some 37 million people affected globally, including 26 million in Africa; Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV); and Tuberculosis (TB), which still kills 1.4 million people each year, accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths from Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

Johnson & Johnson also recently launched the J&J Satellite Center for Global Health Discovery at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), to bring together expertise with a focus on advancing the development of next-generation drug regimens capable of treating all forms of TB.

Lessons from the past pandemics and outbreaks can help minimise the impact of a future public health crisis. COVID-19 showed us the need to move fast when a new infectious threat is discovered.

COVID-19 lessons

Yet while vaccines remain one of the most effective methods of preventing life-threatening infectious diseases, Lery underlines the importance of supportive health facilities, infrastructure for rapid deployment of treatment, and controls to prevent ongoing spread of disease.

In addition, steps must be taken to address stigma associated with some of these conditions, particularly for those living with HIV.

A key lesson learned from COVID-19, and other pandemics, is the need for collaboration across different industries and governments to develop innovative solutions that help remove regulatory, research and development obstacles.

That was illustrated during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Following the 2014 outbreak, which caused nearly 30,000 cases and more than 11,000 deaths, efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine were prioritised and accelerated. The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) Ebola+ programme and the WHO Research and Development Blueprint initiative helped make way for the approval of the first vaccine from Merck in the European Union (EU) in 2019. This was closely followed by EU approval of Janssen’s Ebola vaccine regimen in 2020. To date, there are two approved vaccines for Ebola. In 2021, Ebola vaccines were swiftly deployed to frontline and healthcare workers in Sierra Leone in response to the outbreak in Guinea, contributing to efforts which prevented the outbreak from reaching the scale of levels seen in previous years.

Global partnerships

The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines, and simultaneous scale-up of industry production capabilities, demonstrate the commitment of pharmaceutical companies in addressing global health crises and the strength of expert collaborations and global partnerships.

These learnings can also shape future rapid response. She explains: “Lessons from the past pandemics and outbreaks can help minimise the impact of a future public health crisis. COVID-19 showed us the need to move fast when a new infectious threat is discovered.”

IMR job code: CP-260400
Date of preparation: September 2021

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