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Johnson & Johnson launches global health strategy

The firm aims to build scientific capacity while improving access to health care in South Africa

by Lisa M. Jarvis
April 7, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 15

Johnson & Johnson has unveiled a program aimed at improving health care in Africa. Kicking off the initiative with the launch of operations in Cape Town, South Africa, the firm is targeting affordability, drug distribution, and local research capacity.

Drug companies are taking a variety of approaches to lowering the cost of their products in the developing world. Last month, GlaxoSmithKline said it will open up patents and give generic drug firms licenses to produce its medicines in certain countries.

But J&J believes intellectual property flexibility is only one component of improving health in the developing world. “It’s absolutely clear that these products must be affordable to everyone that needs them,” says Jaak Peeters, J&J’s head of global public health. “But the next level is delivery of care—most of the hurdles are there.”

To that end, J&J is investing in local health care clinics and in an initiative to curb the alarmingly high rate of HIV infection among adolescent girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The firm also wants to build capacity for drug discovery and development in South Africa. In addition to setting up an internal R&D team dedicated to global public health, J&J has formed a pact with the University of Cape Town’s Drug Discovery & Development Center (H3D), led by chemist Kelly Chibale. In recent months, scientists from H3D have spent time in J&J’s research labs with the goal of training more South African researchers in the art of drug discovery.

J&J is also trying to foster life sciences start-ups by working with local universities and the government to support fledgling businesses. Some of those projects could eventually receive funding from the big pharma firm.


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