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Seattle Needs to Stick to its Vision for Global Health, Recession or Not, Says Sen. Murray

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His clinic sees 10,000 patients a year, it lacks adequate chemotherapy that could cure tumors, lacks decent facilities for treating patients, and lacks enough qualified nurses, he said.

—Peter Small, a senior program officer with the Gates Foundation who oversees tuberculosis programs, argued progress is being made against the TB bug, which now kills an estimated 2 million people worldwide. It’s certainly about time. He pointed out that the diagnostic test for the bug is 125 years old and misses half the cases, the vaccine is 80 years old and of “dubious efficacy,” and that the antibiotics for it are 40 years old and need to be taken for six months. There are now three drugs in clinical trials (one of which was developed at Seattle-based Pathogenesis), and a half-dozen diagnostics are being tested in the field, he says. One of the leading vaccine candidates in the world was developed here in Seattle by Steve Reed at the Infectious Disease Research Institute. Small said he doesn’t really look at the area the main center of global health, but more as one of many hotspots. “We need a regional node of excellence on a global network,” he says.

—Dipika Matthias of Seattle-based PATH, a nonprofit that works to improve delivery of health technologies in the developing world, told the story of Ultra Rice (which we recently wrote about here), which has the potential to greatly improve the nutrition value of a staple food.

Judith Wasserheit, vice chair of the department of global health at the University of Washington, told the chamber about the intensity of interest in the subject among students and faculty around the world. The UW’s global health department, formed less than two years ago, already has attracted 200 graduate students and 100 faculty, she said. About 150 such programs have boomed at U.S. universities, and some of them are throwing big-time cash behind the idea. Duke University is spending $7.5 million to recruit faculty, and $6 million for a global health residency program. Imperial College of London just recruited UNAIDS leader Peter Piot to run its global health program. The shakeout, in terms of which departments end up the leaders in this field, will probably take 2-3 years, she says. “We’re all scrambling to recruit the best people,” she says.

In a later session, UW president Mark Emmert said global health is one of the biggest galvanizing forces on campus. “There’s no other subject, besides environmental sustainability, that generates this much interest. The interest is extraordinary,” Emmert says. “The students and faculty see a competitive advantage here.”

We’ll be watching over the next year to see whether the Seattle business community sees that same advantage, and is able to find ways to put its talent and (increasingly limited) resources into helping solve some of these huge problems.

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