Stopping pandemics before they strike: What you need to know about the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations
Johnson & Johnson’s Chief Medical Officer for Global Public Health had a front row seat at the World Economic Forum this year as part of a new coalition aimed at helping to advance vaccine development for pathogens.
The goal: work together to help fast-track vaccine development for known pathogens before they pose an epidemic threat.
We spoke to Alan Tennenberg, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Johnson & Johnson Global Public Health, to learn more about CEPI’s potentially life-saving plans—and the company’s role in leading the fight against deadly diseases.
Why did Johnson & Johnson join the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations?
We have a remarkable track record when it comes to developing solutions to global health threats, such as our response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. More than 11,000 people died from the virus. And while the world responded to the crisis with medical aid, it wasn’t able to provide what was really needed to stop this epidemic: a vaccine.
In January 2015, as the outbreak continued, Johnson & Johnson accelerated clinical testing of an Ebola vaccine under the leadership of our Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels, M.D. and in collaboration with partners Bavarian Nordic and the National Institutes of Health. We defied all expectations and timelines, enabling us to submit it to the World Health Organization this past September for Emergency Use Assessment and Listing.
If this listing is granted, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine could potentially be rolled out for emergency use if there’s another outbreak, even if it is still in the investigational stages and going through clinical trials.
But it’s not enough to just be prepared for Ebola. Even before that outbreak was over, we started reading about the Zika virus and affected babies, making us realize that we need to be able to multitask as new pandemics emerge. We need to build up a bank of vaccines for as many deadly viruses as possible, including Lassa fever, Marburg fever, MERS and SARS.
Paul quickly realized that in order to do this, we need global systems to help stimulate, support and sustain industry efforts to address health threats.
If we’re to be successful, we can’t go at it alone—we have to join forces with a variety of public and private sector international organizations and work together as a united front.
What were you able to accomplish in Davos this year?
When our group first met in Davos last January, we had nothing in place other than energy and the burning desire to make sure devastating epidemics like Ebola didn’t happen again in the future.
I’m still in awe of how quickly we and others have moved to try and prevent pandemics—it makes me really optimistic that our work can truly ensure global health security.
In the past year, we’ve literally gone from zero to 100. We now have a working organization and substantial financial support from such prominent partners as the governments of Japan, Germany and India, as well as the European Commission.
As Paul explained in a press conference last week, we are committed to working together with all stakeholders in forging a path to bring our Ebola vaccines to those in need. We are really excited about the potential for this and believe it can have a significant impact on global public health.
Where does your personal passion for global public health come from?
I’ve been with Johnson & Johnson for almost 16 years. My background is in infectious disease and public health, but I quickly realized after a few years of practicing medicine that I’d have a broader impact on patient care at a company like this one.
I felt it was important to leave a mark on a more global level, which is why I’m so grateful for the chance to represent the company in these important international efforts. I’m still in awe of how quickly we and others have moved to try and prevent pandemics, and it makes me really optimistic that our work can truly ensure global health security.
To top it off, I got to spend a week in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. When you walk out of a day of intense meetings to find yourself surrounded by stunning, snowy Swiss Alps views, it’s completely re-energizing. It’s also very heady to be surrounded by some of the world’s best minds—all doing their part to help prevent devastating diseases.