Dr. Rajeev Venkayya joined Takeda in 2012, to launch the company’s global vaccine business. Since then, he has helped develop vaccines that tackle four infectious diseases: dengue, polio, norovirus and Zika. Additionally, through a partnership with the Japanese government, Dr. Venkayya is leading an effort to protect the population of Japan by supplying an influenza vaccine that will help guard against a pandemic outbreak.
The Driving Force
From the eradication of smallpox to the prevention of countless deaths caused by infectious diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia, diphtheria and rubella, vaccines have provided immense benefits to public health. Dr. Venkayya’s work is driven by his desire to create these kinds of treatments, which can save countless lives in a cost-effective way.
“Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in medicine, science and public health,” Dr. Venkayya says. “You can make them available to an individual once, twice or three times, and they will give that person years or even lifelong protection against certain diseases.”
Challenges, Chance and Looking Forward
From his time at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as at the White House, Dr. Venkayya learned that efforts to develop a groundbreaking treatment must be also supported by both public and private investment.
“It’s non-negotiable that industry needs to be included,” says Dr. Venkayya. “Additionally, while it’s sometimes hard for companies to make the business case to shareholders because of the financial investments required, as well as the commercial and technical risk, the support of government can also make it happen.”
Finally, Venkayya says that equity is crucial to the development of vaccines and global health. “If we’re structuring our work in a way where only people with resources can reap the benefits, then we have failed,” he says. “Every new development needs an embedded strategy that ensures anyone who needs a tool can access it.”
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