Dr Luis Pizarro, a Chilean-French medical doctor and global health expert, became the new Executive Director of the international non-profit medical research organization Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi). He succeeds Dr Bernard Pécoul, who founded the organization 19 years ago.
DNDi was launched in 2003 when the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil, the Kenyan Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), the Malaysian Ministry of Health, and the Institut Pasteur of France, with the participation of the World Health Organization Special Programme on Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (WHO/TDR), teamed up with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), after MSF dedicated a portion of its 1999 Nobel Peace Prize award to exploring a new, alternative, not-for-profit model for developing drugs for neglected populations.
Since then, DNDi has developed and delivered 12 new treatments for six deadly neglected diseases. With more than 250 employees of 37 nationalities, located in nine hubs in Africa, South-East and East Asia, North and Latin America, DNDi is an international organization steering global and South-South collaborations involving over 200 public and private partners.
Under the leadership of Dr Pizarro, who was born in Chile, studied in France, and has led medical projects for several years in West and Central Africa, DNDi will seek to deliver another 13 treatments by 2028, to help build a more equitable system for innovation and access, including by confronting climate-sensitive diseases, bolstering innovation for children’s health, advancing gender-responsive R&D, and ensuring that the benefits of new research and medical technologies extend to the most neglected patients.
‘I am deeply honoured and excited to take on this new role,’ said Dr Pizarro. ‘Today’s numerous global challenges – from climate change to economic instability – will continue to exert a disproportionate burden on the most vulnerable people on our planet. We are already seeing the rise of climate-sensitive diseases like dengue, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown how the fruits of medical innovation continue to be denied to the majority of the world’s population. More than ever, there is a need for patient-centric not-for-profit drug development models like DNDi.’
A medical doctor by training, Dr Pizarro became the first CEO of Solthis from 2007 until 2019, an international health organization dedicated to increasing access to care for HIV, maternal health, and other infectious diseases in West Africa. In 2020 he joined the leadership team of Unitaid to manage the organization’s HIV portfolio and related access programmes. He also serves as founder and member of the Global Health 2030 think tank, as scientific advisor for Global Health at Sciences Po Paris, and as board member of Sidaction.
‘Luis brings to DNDi a long record of successful leadership improving access to healthcare for vulnerable populations, deep expertise in global health, and a passion for bringing likeminded stakeholders together in pursuit of a common vision,’ said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Chair of the DNDi Board. ‘He is uniquely equipped to lead DNDi into its next chapter, and I look forward to accompanying him as he works to deliver on our mission and nurture the strategic alliances that power our progress. On behalf of the Board, I thank Bernard for his extraordinary leadership and remarkable dedication to building DNDi into the impactful product development partnership it is today.’
Under Dr Pécoul’s vision and leadership, DNDi delivered 12 new treatments for neglected diseases such as sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, or for young children and infants with HIV. It succeeded in establishing strong working partnerships with academia, public research institutions, and global pharmaceutical companies that historically had little interest in neglected diseases, showing that an alternative model for drug development, focused on patients’ needs and not on profit, can deliver.
‘I am happy to pass the torch on to Luis and I am confident that he will steer DNDi to fulfil the organization’s commitments to deliver 25 new treatments in our first 25 years,’ said Dr Pécoul. ‘To reach that ambitious goal, DNDi will continue to foster South-South cooperation and cross-regional collaborations, integrate innovations originating in low- and middle-income countries, and strengthen clinical research network in endemic regions. Luis is the ideal person to lead that effort.’
A not-for-profit research and development organization, DNDi works to deliver new treatments for neglected patients, those living with Chagas disease, sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis), leishmaniasis, filarial infections, mycetoma, paediatric HIV, hepatitis C, and dengue. DNDi is also coordinating the ANTICOV clinical trial to find treatments for mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases in low- and middle-income countries. Since its inception in 2003, DNDi has delivered twelve new treatments to date, including new drug combinations for kala-azar, two fixed-dose antimalarials, a child-friendly antiretroviral treatment for young children with HIV, and DNDi’s first successfully developed new chemical entity, fexinidazole, approved in 2018 for the treatment of both stages of sleeping sickness. dndi.org
Frédéric Ojardias (Geneva)
+41 79 431 62 16
Photo credit: Kenny Mbala-DNDi