Science Diplomats Sound the Alarm for Resiliency Preparedness at BIO Convention
By Robert Schultz
June 13, 2023 | BOSTON—The largest biotechnology conference in the world, the BIO International Conference, convened in Boston this week drawing over 20,000 attendees from more than 60 countries. In our post-pandemic world, the common thread throughout the conference was the need for global collaboration on our scientific challenges.
One of the panels “Spurring Life Sciences Innovation Across The Globe: A High-Level Discussion” gave the audience an opportunity to hear the first-hand perspectives of science diplomats from the United Arab Emirates, France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. French Ambassador to the United States, Laurent Bili, summarized the mood of the panel: “The world is changing rapidly. We need to leave the past behind,” he said.
What exactly that change will look like is yet to be revealed, but Bili’s colleagues highlighted areas of focus including global pandemic response, cross-country collaboration on rare disease research, the role of public-private partnerships and more.
George Freeman, who is the United Kingdom’s Minister for Science, Research and Innovation and member of Parliament focused on future pandemic response. “The first lesson is that we all have to stay very aware that with globalization there will be likely more pandemics. I'd like to see us investing in a global network of biosecurity detection so we can constantly assess the threat. We have to think as a global community about how we all need to have national resilience because we are only as safe as the last country out.”
Micky Adriaansens, who is the Netherlands’ Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy reinforced the need for cross-border collaboration. “[Imagine] what we can do if we collaborate, if we step over our own boundaries, and the same is true with knowledge. Together we have a lot of knowledge; we have to find new ways to share knowledge and make it into products. That’s where innovation comes.”
Amin Al Ameeri, Assistant Undersecretary of Health Regulation Sector at the Ministry of Health and Prevention for United Arab Emirates, highlighted the need for international efforts for rare diseases. Different countries of the world can play a key role in helping to deliver insights that would be beneficial for other nations, he pointed out. “We need to concentrate on the collaboration between different countries in rare disease. It might not be common in one country but common in another. In the region where we live, there are many rare diseases that have been discovered recently. It's not only for the patients but also a great help for the companies to discover the treatment. Precision medicine is really the future.”
Freedman agreed that rare disease insights are a priority and highlighted the role of charitable and patient organizations to spur that research forward. “We are blessed with an incredible charitable research center. We have really big players right down to rare disease organizations. I think they are going to play a bigger role in the life science ecosystem; I view them as an absolutely fundamental part of our ecosystem… Charities have a key role and philanthropic funding will play a bigger role in the next 4-5 years,” he predicted.
Funding Research Collaborations
The panel consistently focused on the need for cross-border collaboration in order to maintain resilience in the likelihood of future catastrophic health events. Nations realized during the pandemic that their own national interests depend on the well-being of people in other countries.
Adriaansens explained the importance of our human responsibility to provide equitable care for the entire population “We have to think about all the types of humans we have,” he said, and later added: “We see a change in society that a strong economy is not about earning money. You need to use this money to invest in what we think is valuable. We are investing in our health; it’s also our environment and taking care of each other.”
Not only must nations collaborate in pursuit of shared health and economic interests but also within their own borders public-private partnerships (PPP) provide deeper capacity and accelerate relief efforts during times of crisis. The private sector can dramatically increase efficiency when partnering with government agencies Al Ameeri explained.
“We in the UAE learned from the pandemic… we had to be ready for unexpected emergencies in the future. We have a strong strategic partnership with the private sector. Some examples are that we registered 50 vaccines with the Emirates; we are the leaders in this. In the UAE, we have 10M people, but we act big, and we think of the future of not only our community but the most global country. We were the first country in the region to develop our own vaccine… Many countries suffered from a shortage of medicine. We were completely the opposite; we supplied 41 countries... UAE was number one in the world in PCR tests, and number one in the world in providing vaccines free of charge.”
Al Ameeri attributed his country’s success to partnerships and Adriaansens echoed the sentiment. “The success formula [was] the government, knowledge institutions, and the companies in which we invest together,” he said.
Time is critical for patients and governments during times of crisis, Al Ameeri emphasized UAE’s remarkable ability to fast-track approvals, saying that the country was able to receive a new medication approval before FDA or EMEA approval. “I send the registration certification via Whatsapp,” he added.
Freedman’s parting remark provided reason for optimism. “We need to imagine a different world where healthcare is not siloed or sovereign. Healthcare becomes a global citizenship where we are all looking for the same thing. Everyone wants health, everyone wants a longer life. If we harness that and look at digitalization, we are only in the foothills of what we can do. We are in the midst of a revolution in life sciences. If we create the international runway, we could be somewhere different.”