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EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021 was the year of vaccines; what will 2022 be the year of?
CW: As an industry and a group of confederated countries, Africa needs to identify how to become more sustainable and self-sufficient. As you mentioned, 2021 was the year of vaccines; unfortunately, none of the vaccines or PPE was made in Africa. This highlighted that Africa does not stand on its own. Building self-sufficiency in Africa is crucial.
EF: How can we leverage some of the lessons we learned during the pandemic going into the future?
CW: If we want to become more self-sufficient industrial giants like Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Egypt can start taking the lead in developing core and essential products. The capabilities are there, which can be seen through collaborations with companies like Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson. We need to look at matching the continent's needs with the available technology through healthcare prioritization.
Diagnostically, we need to start looking for ways to decentralize laboratories and figure out ways to establish more point-of-care technologies. Africa needs to start using more innovation and technology to address patients' needs. Technology for HIV is quite advanced here in South Africa. We want to see the same advancement in other diseases across the continent. It all starts with having a sound industrial base that has to be fully developed.
EF: Can you elaborate on Gilead’s collaborations with other pharmaceutical companies?
CW: We have a long-standing relationship with Aspen, Adcock Ingram, EVA pharma and other companies. They make some products for us for different diseases. During the pandemic, Gilead mass-produced products around the top 12 markets in the world. We took a closer look at the need for a product across a broader range of countries with different needs basis. To get the product out, we partnered with seven Indian companies to manufacture the product extensively. These collaborations made our product quickly available more broadly.
The next step I want to take in Gilead is to expand our product portfolio across the greater part of Africa and find the best collaborative partners for new projects. The collaborations will allow cures and treatments to become homegrown, which will enable us to impact patients and help those country partners’ economic bases.
EF: What advice would you give to other executives to keep collaborations going in the future?
CW: It is a double-sided message. One is harmonization, and the other is the ability to see Africa as more than a disaggregated continent with regional consolidation. Harmonization means getting approval in one market, which covers seven countries or twenty-two countries and markets. It is the ability to turn the small unfederated countries into powerhouses. Africa needs to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on other non-African countries.
We have to figure out how to make our markets bigger, more attractive, and more commercially interesting because of communicable diseases. Additionally, the growth and impact of non-communicable diseases on the continent are critical.
EF: How do you see the role of Gilead in treating NCDs and misdiagnosis?
CW: Our portfolio is virology-based and does not speak to non-communicable diseases. We have one of the most ambitious oncology pipelines. Oncology is the future for Gilead. We are currently working on uplifting communities that are plagued by hepatitis as we strengthen the healthcare system for patients to get cured. Then we will take what we learned and expand it to cancer patients across Africa.
Everyone thought the pandemic was about having PPE products or vaccines, but people quickly realized it was only part of the problem when they became available. The big problem is identifying patients and having pathways to care for patients with viable solutions. How do we follow up to ensure patients have a more durable, and sustainable response?
The industry wants a golden pathway for the patient that leads somewhere, but it is at the expense of other things. Consequently, some products have gone out of date and been destroyed because the focus was on the availability of a product. The absolute focus on getting a COVID solution meant that fragile healthcare systems put several treatments on hold. Anything that required the patient to interact with the healthcare system was pushed back because of COVID. We need to improve fragile healthcare systems by making them more robust and driving the idea of health equity across to patients and citizens in Africa.
EF: Can you elaborate on some of the initiatives and portfolio productions on Africa's key health issues?
CW: One size does not fit all. People want one solution for consolidated African countries to implement. Each country will have patients with a disease that can be cured, allowing us to set a timeline to carry out the cure. Our objective is to cure hepatitis by 2030. The care continuum is loosely defined which limits the focus on other diseases, making certain development pathways less mature.
In South Africa, there are 400,000 patients suffering from hepatitis C and 4 million suffering from hepatitis B. Some patients are from the private sector and others in the public sector. We have to find a solution that balances both sectors as a healthcare system. What the system deploys in the private.