Today, the Smithsonian opened its much-anticipated, three-year exhibit “Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World” at the National Museum of Natural Science with support from Johnson & Johnson Innovation, just as another Ebola outbreak is heating up in Democratic Republic of Congo. And earlier this week, we kicked off an exciting new collaboration in London, UK with the Science Museum and the Royal Society at the Scientist Meets the Media event and celebrated science journalism at the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) annual awards.
Johnson & Johnson Innovation partners with organizations like these because they pursue goals consistent with our own mission. They help elevate the critical importance of science in our everyday lives and celebrate the scientists, healthcare workers and journalists who discover, deliver and communicate science to shape our world for the greater good.
Today, as we hear news reports about an outbreak of Ebola again in the Democratic Republic of Congo, communicating the importance of science is critically important. I remember vividly my 2015 trip to Sierra Leone during the height of the Ebola outbreak and in the middle of the Hot Zone. We were there because we had an Ebola vaccine in our lab, and we were working hard to accelerate its development. It was an honor to join Dr. Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer of Johnson & Johnson as part of his team aiming to do clinical trials to test the vaccine. I remain incredibly proud of Johnson & Johnson for committing $200 million towards accelerating development of the vaccine.
Many of the reporters who had then covered the story are now following up to ask us where we are with our vaccine. I am proud to tell them that Johnson & Johnson stands ready to mobilize our resources and expertise to help the government and people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Supplies of our investigational vaccine regimen can be made available immediately to public health authorities on the frontlines. Ongoing clinical studies of our “prime-boost” Ebola vaccine suggest that the vaccine induces a durable immune response to the Ebola Zaire strain and is well tolerated by volunteers. In September 2016, we filed for Emergency Use Assessment and Listing (EUAL) with WHO for this vaccine, and review of our submission is ongoing. Additionally, J&J is maintaining a stockpile of 2 million Ebola vaccines -- and we are ready to deploy these whenever needed.
I strongly recommend visiting the “Outbreak” exhibit when you get the chance. It is an urgent presentation of the challenges we face in our rapidly expanding global community. The show opens during the 100th anniversary of the 1918 flu pandemic that killed more than 50 million people – as much as 5 percent of the world’s population – in an age when we were less connected and vulnerable to transmission than we are today. It features an excellent overview of the 2015 Ebola outbreak and the women and men who answered the call for help then. Undoubtedly, many of the same professionals featured at the Smithsonian will – like J&J - again be on the front lines in Africa. And so will the reporters - reporting not just the facts but documenting the context, the meaning, and the human emotion surrounding the situation, as well as the promise... and ultimately the success... of science over sickness.
Seema Kumar is Vice President Innovation, Public Health and Science Policy Communication for Johnson & Johnson. Watch her remarks at the Royal Society Science Meets the Media dinner here.
Find out more at Twitter@seemajjic and Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World: Exhibitions.