Major health challenges require a global approach

2 June 2022• NEWSITEM

On May 30, international experts and politicians gathered in Leiden to discuss global health issues. Lively discussions were held on matters concerning equal worldwide access to vaccines and diversity within clinical research. New scientific insights were also shared, including on vaccine response differences between African and European populations. The daily conclusion was clear: global collaboration and innovative research is key to solving the greatest health challenges of our time.

The Global Impact in Health Symposium was organised by LUMC Global, a strategic programme of the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC). For this symposium, forces were joined with Leiden University, Health~Holland, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), Janssen, Philips and the Leiden Bio Science Park (LBSP). The aim was to bring together international experts and to stimulate new  collaborations.  Experts not only came from all over the world, but also from different branches, such as academia, politics, public or private sector.  

Equal opportunities

The mix led to substantive discussions. For instance, about matters concerning equal worldwide access to vaccines.  In this regard, Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin wondered whether Indonesia would be better off producing its own vaccines instead of relying on vaccine donations from other countries. "The development of vaccines and drugs, without the capacity to produce them rapidly in large quantities, has led to the huge disparity in vaccination rates between the northern and southern hemispheres ." He called on the audience to engage in a conversation about the opportunities and challenges regarding the issue.

It is equally asimportant to ensure that vaccines work properly throughout the world. Several vaccines are known to provide lower protection in African countries. For a new malaria vaccine, this protection is 100% in Europeans and only 30% in people from Africa . According to LUMC professor Maria Yazdanbakhsh, this is due to differences in their immune systems. During the symposium, Yazdanbakhsh shared her new research project that aims to improve the vaccine response in people from Africa and Southeast Asia. She is doing this in close collaboration with local researchers. "For this project to be successful and for the full potential of vaccines to be globally exploited,  cooperation with these countries is crucial "

Leiden ecosystem

The symposium also celebrated new developments in healthcare. Anne Kerber, head of Cell Therapy Development at BMS, spoke about their new CAR-T cell therapy facility located at the LBSP. In this facility, immune cells from cancer patients can be modified to attack and eliminate cancer cells. Among other things , she explained why they chose Leiden to open BMS's first cell therapy facility in Europe: "This city offers us the opportunity to realise our company's vision of changing patients' lives through science."

The day ended with co-creation sessions in which participants were invited to roll up their sleeves. Valuable plans were drawn-up that reflected the creative energy of the diverse audience. For instance, about the role the Netherlands and Europe can play in cooperating with international partners and in setting-up a health data infrastructure, based on the example of the Virus Outbreak Data Network (VODAN) - Africa. This will be discussed further in Brussels later this week. 

We can look back on fruitful discussions, meetings and knowledge exchanges. The importance of international cooperation was underlined once again throughout the day. The symposium also offered new starting points for future collaborations. 

Foto: Buro JP