Biopharma’s battle against NCDs in developing countries

Non-communicable diseases (or NCDs) are common, often treatable, diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, which can become life-threatening in developing countries where healthcare infrastructures are less-than-stellar. In this article, Eli Lilly and Company’s Greg Kueterman discusses the role biopharma plays in overcoming this issue.

(Continued from “A social media renaissance in pharma“)

Biopharmaceutical companies are, of course, in the business of developing new innovative medicines for vexing and debilitating diseases. New medicines, in fact, have played a big role in improving life expectancy in many parts of the world (from an average of 47 years in 1900 to an average of 78 years in 2000). That’s a 66 percent jump – an amazing increase over the course of 100 years.
But there’s another piece to the puzzle – and many parts of the healthcare sector are working hard to make sure all the pieces fit together for patients around the world.
While new medicines are central to defeating devastating diseases such as diabetes, they will produce minimal dividends without appropriate education, infrastructure, and know-how across the medical community. And that’s what Lilly is trying to achieve with our non-communicable disease program that addresses these very issues in countries such as South Africa and India.


“…the WHO estimates that of the 57 million deaths in 2008, 36 million, or 63%, were due to non-communicable disease.”


Earlier this year, Lilly’s chairman and chief executive officer, John Lechleiter, wrote about this very topic in

“Non-communicable diseases – including cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes – are the leading causes of death in the world, by far. In its most recent report, the World Health Organization estimates that of the 57 million deaths in 2008, 36 million, or 63 percent, were due to non-communicable disease. A quarter of those were people younger than 60; millions more live with the debilitating effects of these diseases for years.”

John Lechleiter wrote.

Non-communicable diseases – also known as NCDs – are common diseases such as diabetes and cancer that are often treatable with appropriate healthcare support and infrastructure. Sadly, these diseases prove all-too-often to be deadly in countries that have less-than-stellar infrastructures.

“Though we think of NCDs as diseases of more affluent societies, some 80 percent of all NCDs today occur in low- and middle-income countries, due largely to changing lifestyles. As this scourge leads to premature death and long-term disability, it also spreads poverty and stifles development. A study by researchers from Harvard University estimated that one extra year of life expectancy raises a country’s per capita GDP by about 4 percent. Imagine the negative impact that NCDs have on poverty reduction and economic growth in countries that can least afford it.”

John Lechleiter continued.

The biopharmaceutical industry has played a big role in reducing deaths from NCDs in developed countries (particularly cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and multiple cancers). But more medicines and other supporting solutions are needed to win the battle against NCDs in many low- and middle-income countries. Many countries simply lack the healthcare infrastructure to get the right treatment to patients who contract these difficult-to-treat illnesses. To tackle these diseases, we need holistic solutions, especially in countries with less-developed healthcare systems.


“The road ahead with NCDs – with the right blueprint – is difficult but manageable.”


As our CEO wrote in Forbes, Johns Hopkins University recently released a roadmap for progress in the global fight against NCDs. The roadmap, which is a series of policy briefs commissioned by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, outlines key initiatives and provides recommendations predicated on cooperation across the public and private sectors. This type of cooperation could pave a way forward to strengthening healthcare systems around the world and to achieving better health outcomes.

Among the findings by Johns Hopkins: the NCD community can learn lessons from those who have slowed the devastating wave of deaths from HIV / AIDS. More testing, better treatments, and strong educational programs have combined to turn an automatic death sentence into a disease that has become manageable for a majority of patients (all through unique industry-government-societal partnerships).

The road ahead with NCDs – with the right blueprint – is difficult but manageable. Diabetes, in fact, is particularly challenging. Despite newer and more effective treatments, the incidence of diabetes continues to explode around the world. The International Diabetes Federation says 366 million people globally had diabetes in 2011. That number, according to the IDF, will balloon to 552 million by 2030.

Access and appropriate use of medicines continue being a sticking point. By improving access, diagnosis, and treatment in lower income countries – in essence, improving their infrastructures – we have a chance to reverse the trend on NCDs. In short, lives can be saved.

The next Eli Lilly and Company article ‘Partnerships and progress on counterfeit medicines’ can be viewed here.


About the author:

Greg Kueterman has worked in the business of health care communications since 1996, including 14 years at Eli Lilly and Company. Greg currently works in corporate media relations at Lilly, where he manages media outreach for the company’s government affairs, public policy, and access organizations. He also provides strategic support for European Operations. Greg has been involved in the company’s premier social media platform, LillyPad, since its inception in 2010. Greg is one of three regular bloggers on LillyPad – where he focuses specifically on “Life at Lilly” issues. Before joining Lilly’s media relations team, Greg worked in marketing communications and employee communications at Lilly, and he also spent three years at WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the U.S. Greg is a 1987 graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism. He spent nine years in the newspaper business before taking on communications roles in the corporate world.

How can pharma improve access to medicines in developing countries?