To Repel Disease
Infectious diseases have re-emerged in modern society, resulting in major health and economic impacts on vulnerable sections of the population. In an interview with Bettina Magsaam (Global Marketing Management Insect Repellent, Electronics) and Béatrice Gréco (Head of R&D and Access at our Global Health Institute), we discuss our long-term fight against infectious diseases (such as malaria) and explore the sustainable impact high-performance products can have on global health issues…
Hello Bettina. Let’s think first about two topics: the IR3535® insect repellent and eco-friendliness. How does our product IR3535® fare in this area?
Multiple studies have shown that our insect repellent IR3535® is one of the best choices when it comes to repelling insects – not only if you need to optimize safety profiles, in terms of consumer and environmental safety, but also because it’s highly efficient at delivering long-term protection from mosquito bites. What’s remarkable about IR3535® is that it’s entirely safe for children, who in many ways are the most vulnerable population when it comes to infectious diseases, particularly with malaria. All of these product features mean that it’s a very safe option in formulation terms for long-term and regular everyday use (including for children), so it’s an effective way to prevent infectious diseases while still using an ecofriendly product.
The trademark IR3535® sounds like a character from Star Wars, but it actually plays an important role in a different area: global health. What makes it so special?
IR3535® is a trademark, so it’s the protected name we use for a product that’s increasingly recognized for its efficacy against a number of insects that can transport infectious diseases – such as Zika, Dengue fever, and tick-borne Lyme disease. This is why with the Global Health Institute of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we’re assessing the efficacy of IR3535® against malaria in Africa and develop product formulations that will be accessible and affordable to people who need effective protection. Our product IR3535® has a potential to become a key tool in combating malaria in the future.
Turning to you Béatrice, the studies regarding the insect repellent IR3535® is just one project. What other initiatives is the Global Health Institute currently working on?
The institute has a large portfolio focusing on malaria and schistosomiasis – which includes development of innovative drugs, diagnostics, preventive approaches, technologies for access to essential resources (such as water), local capacity building, and various educational programs. All our projects are conducted through a large network of partnerships with local African academic and international organizations. Besides addressing our mission, this portfolio strengthens the company’s contribution to several UN Sustainable Development Goals and supports our own Shared Value and sustainability strategy.
Béatrice, from a holistic point of view, what’s the main goal of our Global Health Institute?
The future challenges to global health will be driven by climate change, population growth, and the increased scarcity of essential resources. So, to combat this, we will need to strengthen the resilience of health systems in the world’s most vulnerable regions and ensure they remain sustainable. That’s the main goal of our Global Health Institute and we achieve this by developing innovative and sustainable science while ensuring people have proper access to scientific insights. We want to underscore our commitment to patients by pooling our resources and fighting malaria – which costs 400,000 lives annually – through a number of leading health programs. This includes making good use of the IR3535® insect repellent, which can not only be used safely by humans, but may provide important help in disease prevention.
The insect repellent IR3535® is based on beta-alanine, a naturally occurring amino acid, and it sends out a simple message to insects: stay away!
An important aspect of curiosity is the satisfaction we derive from learning something different and seeking out new knowledge. Is this an important part of achieving our global health aspirations?
Bettina: The project around our IR3535® product addresses so many different aspects, but it’s still not really known by some of the most important stakeholders, such as pediatricians or travel medicine consultants. By spreading the word and highlighting the many different advantages offered by using the IR3535® insect repellent, we can create more interest or “curiosity” among scientists and our technology partners. Building partnerships and networking, in order to share the message with doctors, can be deeply satisfying when you see the positive impact it has on brand reputation.
Béatrice: I’d say this aspect is crucial! Like many other initiatives at our Global Health Institute, this program wouldn’t have even got underway if it hadn’t been for that feeling of deep satisfaction – the sense you gain when curiosity and key insights start to come together, when you pool experience and skills, and it leads to really creative solutions. And, this allows you to attain the common goal – which, for us, is to make a difference by helping the sections of the population that are most vulnerable.
What Do You Think?
How many research and access partnerships has our Global Health Institute established worldwide?
Has your work (and research) changed your own personal awareness of sustainability issues in global health?
Bettina: Obviously people working for local organizations in places like Ghana are highly committed; they never give up the fight against malaria and they’re doing everything they can to help save lives. I once had the fortune of attending the World Malaria Day and witnessing an example of health services in action, when I traveled to Accra two years ago. I find it personally fulfilling to be able to join the As One Against Malaria team – it’s a long-term opportunity to play an active role in a meaningful sustainability project.
Béatrice: In all the years I’ve been working on R&D, access programs and dealing with the global health challenges faced in developing countries, it has become increasingly clear to me that the key issue we need to tackle, the one that will really make a difference in people’s lives, is the sustainability of our health programs on a local level. This is new territory and I’m confident that with a genuine spirit of curiosity, and creativity in our teams, we will succeed with this endeavor.