Bringing a drug to market requires decades of work and hundreds of millions of dollars. Researchers have made extraordinary investments of time, energy, and capital in drug development efforts to treat diseases that are common today in developed countries, such as diabetes and cancer. But finding funding for diseases that are prevalent in low- and middle-income countries is difficult. Why? Because products for people in low- and middle-income countries must be very low cost, and thus do not create sufficient financial returns for companies on investments in the products’ creation. Investing in these products simply is not profitable for pharmaceutical companies. As a result, critically needed treatment and prevention tools often do not get developed.
The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT) was created to address these challenges. GHIT catalyzes and invests in R&D partnerships between researchers in Japan and their counterparts across the globe, gathering funding from governments, private companies, and foundations to develop new tools for treating malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases, all of which are common in and devastating to low- and middle-income countries.
BT Slingsby, CEO and Executive Director of the GHIT Fund, traces his desire to work in medicine to an encounter during his childhood in Egypt. Each day on his way to school, Slingsby would see the same man in front of a shop, always smoking the hookah. One of the man’s legs was large, like that of an elephant. One day, Slingsby asked him why his leg was so big, and the man said he had been stung by a mosquito and caught an infectious disease (lymphatic filariasis, or “elephantiasis”). He added, “If I had been treated earlier, it might not have been this bad.” At that moment, Slingsby recognized the importance of timing to the treatment of disease.
“How can I improve people’s health around the world?” he asked himself. To answer this question, he decided to study abroad so that he could learn broadly and deeply about health in different settings. He studied public health at a graduate school in Japan, focusing on comparative research on clinical medicine and on health systems in Japan and the United States. After completing his studies, he returned to the United States to continue on his path as a medical doctor.
Driven by a persistent desire to improve health around the globe, he took a position at a Japanese pharmaceutical company, focusing on projects that addressed the needs of low- and middle-income countries. Soon he found himself at the center of discussions around how to “create a fund to develop the drugs low- and middle-income countries need.” He built a coalition of partners that crossed the public and private sectors—including pharmaceutical companies, government ministries, private corporations, and a foundation to create the GHIT Fund, established in 2013.
As of 2015, GHIT had invested in 40 organizations inside and outside Japan that are advancing research and development for drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics for people in low- and middle-income countries. “I see the power and promise of Japanese innovation, and I want to make an impact on people’s health around the world by bringing that innovation to bear on global R&D efforts,” Slingsby says.
GHIT Fund CEO