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An insight into the value of international collaborations in global health(care) challenges, to be further highlighted during Leiden2022 

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May 25, 2022

Leiden2022 marks what the City of Leiden has achieved in science till date and how it wishes to move forward to contribute to challenges of various kinds. The LUMC is one of many organizations showcasing science in practice with interactive events for a variety of target groups. Like with all Leiden based companies, Leiden2022 offers the LUMC the opportunity to show its societal and academic value on an international stage, strengthening its international position, as well as explore possibilities for new international collaborations to contribute to global healthcare challenges even more comprehensively. The Global Impact in Health symposium on May 30th, 2022, part of the LSH week, aims to stimulate just that by bringing together healthcare experts from all over the world working on a broad range of important health(care) related research and projects. Here’s a few things you can expect.

Challenges in vaccine equity, part of the high-level Fireside chat between Hans Schikan (Health~Holland) and Dr. Emile Bienvenu (FDA, Rwanda)

The pandemic has shown the challenges the world faces related to vaccine equity. Hans Schikan, Topteam Member Dutch Topsector Life Sciences & Health (Health Holland, organizing partner of the symposium) and former Special Envoy for Vaccines “Production, political and human bottlenecks play key roles in vaccine equity. There was a harrowing contrast between countries in terms of access to vaccines. It became especially apparent how little access low-income countries had to vaccines”, says Schikan, to which he adds: “From a moral standpoint, you want to help everyone. But even looking past moral viewpoints, it is in everyone’s best interest, including high-income countries, that all countries have easy access to vaccines. As we have seen multiple times during the pandemic, when a virus is free to spread and mutate due to insufficient protection in the population, this may lead to variants of concern that the vaccines are less or not effective against, leading to a prolonged fight against the pandemic. Even now we can see new mutations of the Omikron variant popping up without having a clear understanding of the potential harm of these variants.”

It is in this light that Schikan is interested to learn the specific needs of low-income countries in his fireside chat with Dr. Emile Bienvenu, Director General of the Food and Drug Authority of Rwanda. “I want to learn how Dutch institutions can play a role in increasing availability of vaccines in low-income countries and share knowledge. I hope the fireside chat leads to a better understanding of the subject for listeners and stimulates setting up collaborations to improve the global healthcare stage now and in the future.”

Vaccine hypo responsiveness hub, one of the initiatives highlighted in the inspiring initiatives carousel, by Prof. Maria Yazdanbakhsh

Having recently been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant of 2.5 million euros, LUMC’s very own Prof. Yazdanbakhsh has proven her worth once more in (bio)medical research, this time focusing on why people in Africa and Southeast Asia respond less to certain vaccines than Europeans. Her goal is to find a solution for low vaccine responses. With the ERC grant, Yazdanbakhsh and colleagues want to unravel the cause of hypo-responsiveness. “We know that the immune system of people in high-, low- and middle-income countries differs. But even within a single country, such as Indonesia, we see differences between people living in rural or urban areas.” These differences in the immune system are caused by environmental factors and, according to Yazdanbakhsh, are at the root of low protection after vaccination. She will highlight how she will go about this research and how important international collaboration is to come to a comprehensive study.

Contribution by Anne Kerber, Senior Vice President, Head of Cell therapy development – Bristol Myers Squibb

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), one of the partners helping us to make this symposium possible, announced a year ago they will set up a new CAR T-cell therapy facility in the Leiden Bio Science Park. This 5th Cell Therapy facility for BMS is the first in Europe and will contribute to bringing CAR T-cell therapy closer to European patients. Construction is evolving and recruitment is ongoing. BMS will hire several hundred employees from all levels for this new facility, which is planned to open end 2024

CAR T is an abbreviation for ‘Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell’ therapy. T-cells are immune cells that can combat and shut down malignant cancer cells. First, white blood cells from cancer patients who are eligible for this treatment are extracted. These cells are then genetically modified in BMS’s Cell therapy facility to be placed back in the patient later in a specialized center. This modification helps patients to combat hematological cancer types through their own T-cells.

During a Q&A, senior vice president and head of Cell Therapy Development at BMS, Anne Kerber, will explain why the company has decided to set up this facility in Leiden and also zoom in on the importance of diversity in clinical trials.

VODAN-Africa

The Virus Outbreak Data Network (VODAN)-Africa platform is coordinated from the Leiden University Medical Centre, with Prof. Mirjam van Reisen in the lead, who will zoom in specifically on the network, alongside Prof. Francisca Oladipo, the executive coordinator, during the symposium. VODAN-Africa includes 88 African healthcare facilities in eight countries which create machine-readable patient records data pipelines for improved data analytics at point of care, as well as quality ethical data for analytics across borders and continents in different jurisdictions. VODAN-Africa is the first deep FAIR-based federated data-visiting architecture that has been deployed in small and large, connected and less connected clinics in Africa.

Much more to come

The topics above are mere snippets of what the Global Impact in Health symposium will contain. With the event, the LUMC Global team, supporting partners and contributing experts truly aim to ‘put on the show’ of the year in terms of health(care) related events and really push important research and projects forward. View the entire programme and contributing experts here and join us online on May 30th!


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