New BVGH initiative to foster cancer research, improve access to prioritized medicines in Africa
The high burden of breast cancer in women of African heritage, an issue long under-recognized by the medical community, governments, and drug companies, will be highlighted at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) International Convention at the San Diego Convention Center on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Renowned breast cancer expert Dr. Olufunmilayo (Funmi) Olopade, Director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics at the University of Chicago , will speak on the dramatic differences in disease biology and outcomes in African vs. Caucasian women during panel sessions at 10:30 am in Room 28AB and 3:00 pm in Room 27AB.
BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH) is presenting both panel sessions as part of the launch of its African Access Initiative (AAI), which will improve oncology care in select African countries through partnerships of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, African governments, leading oncologists and researchers, and non-profits. Cancer now kills 60% more Africans than malaria, and regional healthcare systems are struggling under the weight of this burgeoning cancer crisis. Dr. Olopade, “In Africa, cancer is nearly always fatal, and patients and their families have little or no hope that they will overcome the disease and be healthy again.”
Breast cancer, the most common malignancy among African women, will be a major focus of AAI. A native of Nigeria, Dr. Olopade has dedicated her career to unraveling breast cancer biology in women of African descent. Her pioneering research, published in leading scientific journals, has shown that the disease “hits earlier and harder” in Africa than among Caucasian women in the United States. African women are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age and tend to have more aggressive tumors that lack the hormone receptors targeted by many breast cancer drugs. Consequently, these women have specific treatment needs and poorer outcomes.
AAI will help address these priorities by building the capacity and infrastructure needed to support further research on Africa’s cancer landscape and clinical trials of existing and new treatments. AAI partners will also establish innovative business agreements to provide sustainable access to oncology medicines and technologies.
In concert with the AAI launch at BIO, BVGH will also release a White paper on the African cancer crisis, co-authored by Dr. Olopade and other leading oncologists, and host the third annual Africa Pavilion to showcase African R&D innovations and foster partnerships.
The rollout of AAI represents a new direction for BVGH. “BVGH has led key programs in infectious diseases—such as the United Nations’ WIPO Re:Search program—and is now expanding its attention toward engaging industry in efforts to ensure that patients in low- and middle-income countries have access to proper healthcare for non-communicable diseases, starting with cancer,” noted BVGH President Jennifer Dent.
Dr. Olopade and Dr. Pol Vandenbroucke, Vice President of Medical Strategy at Pfizer, will join BVGH’s Board of Directors to strengthen its expertise in oncology and healthcare delivery in Africa.
“I am very pleased to welcome these two remarkable individuals to the BVGH Board of Directors,” said Jim Greenwood, BVGH Board Chair and BIO President and CEO. “Both Dr. Olopade and Dr. Vandenbroucke bring with them a strong commitment to improving access to innovative medicines in Africa and specialized understanding of healthcare delivery on the continent.”
Greenwood added, “Dr. Olopade is a groundbreaking cancer researcher with a robust network of oncologists in Nigeria and close ties to the Nigerian Minister of Health. Dr. Vandenbroucke has led the development of new medicines for infectious diseases prevalent in developing nations, and we are thrilled that he will contribute his own expertise and help bring industry attention to the growing public health threat of cancer in Africa.”