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October 12, 2004

J.B. Grant Society Hosts Panel on Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis caused 2 to 3 million deaths worldwide last year, compared with 813 from SARS, 244 from Ebola and 232 from West Nile Virus. Yet as Lee Riechman, MD, MPH ’71, explained, TB does not get the same amount of attention as other infectious diseases. According to Dr. Riechman, TB is particularly troublesome because it has become resistant to many of the antibiotics that were traditionally used to treat it. It is also easily spread by breathing. 

“We could eliminate TB because we understand it," said Dr. Riechman, who is professor and executive director of the National Tuberculosis Center at the New Jersey Medical School. "We know its causes, transmission, treatment and prevention. We don’t because not a whole of people seem to care. That might be changing, but this certainly wouldn’t be tolerated with any other disease,” he said.

Riechman, author of Timebomb, a book about the TB epidemic in Russia and its global spread, was one of five speakers on October 4, when the J.B. Grant International Health Society hosted a panel discussion titled “Public-Private Partnerships: Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis as a Case Study."

Public-private partnerships enable corporations, academia, and not-for-profit organizations to combine their varied skills and resources to reduce the burden of disease around the world in a way that they could not by working independently. For example, industry can offer discounts on expensive medications, but they don’t have the same ability to as not-for-profits and academic centers to get them into the hands of those in need.

The panel addressed public-private initiative between Eli Lilly & Co, a pharmaceutical company, and not-for-profit organizations to address the global crisis of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB.)

Gail Cassell, PhD, ScD (Hon.), vice president, Scientific Affairs and Distinguished Lilly Research Scholar for Infectious Diseases at Eli Lilly, and a microbiologist, spoke of the personal interest that those involved in the partnership have in combating MDR-TB. She remembers a phone call that Lilly’s then-CEO got soon after she first started working there. “It was from board member saying that a young physician at Harvard was literally borrowing drugs from the pharmacy at Brigham, taking them to Peru to treat patients with MDR-TB. He had run up a big bill that he couldn’t pay, and what could we do to help?” Lilly helped by working with the physicians at Harvard, who found that MDR-TB could be treated effectively. “And Lilly makes two of remaining five drugs that can effectively treat MDR-TB. They were discovered half a century ago,” said Cassell.

After a study came out proving that MDR-TB could be treated successfully (it had been thought that it could not), the World Health Organization promoted a new global strategy called DOTS-Plus, for treating MDR-TB. It incorporates the Lilly drugs.

Michael Spink, PhD, executive director, Regional Manufacturing & Legacy Products at Lilly also spoke. And from the Bloomberg School, Angeline Nanni, MBA, director, Vaccine Supply & Finance, GAVI PneumoADIP, and Robert E. Black, MD, MPH, professor and chair, Department of International Health, also presented.—Kristi Birch