CEPI CEO calls for Japan, Komeito and G7 to continue fight against infectious diseases

January 14 , 2023

Yamaguchi and CEPI CEO Dr. Richard Hatchett met in Tokyo on Oct. 19, 2022Yamaguchi and CEPI CEO Dr. Richard Hatchett met in Tokyo on Oct. 19, 2022

Komeito’s Japanese daily organ, Komei Shimbun, published an opinion piece submitted by Dr. Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an alliance to spur the development of new vaccines against both existing and emergent epidemics. In his submission, CEO Hatchett expresses his hopes that Japan and Komeito will persist in the battle against the covid pandemic while counting on the G7 summit to be held in Hiroshima later this year for a continued coordinated response to combat a host of infectious disease epidemics.

Preventing Pandemics: Preparing to Beat the Next Disease X

Dr Richard Hatchett
Dr Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)

Three years into COVID-19, the world is still counting the enormous costs of this devastating pandemic. It’s true to say, for anyone who has lived through these shattering years, that we will probably never be the same again. We are exhausted by the relentless toll that COVID has taken on us, and pandemic fatigue is setting in.

Yet at the same time—as we continue to take stock of the pandemic damage and loss to both lives and economies—we are also being hit by other crises that demand our attention: a terrible war in Europe, soaring energy costs, political and economic instability, and food shortages.

At CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, where I am Chief Executive Officer, we are very aware of these crises stacking up around the world. We are also very sure that the world must not let its guard down against pandemic threats. Infectious disease epidemics are ever-present and recurring—be they in the form of mpox, Ebola, influenza, or any other viral pathogen lurking on the sidelines, ready to exploit any weaknesses in humanity’s pandemic defences.

Over recent years I have watched in admiration as Japan set new standards in how best to tackle and contain infectious disease epidemics and pandemics. The nation’s response to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 is a case in point. Despite having one of the G7’s largest and oldest populations, it has had the lowest numbers of COVID-19 deaths per capita, thanks largely to the strength of its leadership and its peoples’ well-earned trust in that leadership.

During a visit to Japan in October 2022, I was struck by the commitment of the Japanese Government and the Komeito Party to tackling the threat of emerging infectious diseases—both at home and abroad—and by the drive and innovation that characterise Japan’s world-leading biomedical industry and scientific institutions.

We are thankful that Japan, as a founding member of CEPI, has remained steadfast in its commitment to pandemic preparedness, and I am grateful to the Komeito Party for the strength of its support. At our Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit in March 2022, Japan renewed its commitment once more, with a pledge of $300 million over five years to support CEPI’s five-year pandemic preparedness plan. This represents our largest single pledge to date, and will allow us to press ahead with critical preparedness work to build defences against future pandemic threats.

While we would all like it to be over, the threat of COVID-19 is still with us. And despite the record-breaking pace at which COVID vaccines were developed, we always seem to be one step behind the virus, chasing each new variant as they cause fresh waves of infection. It’s clear that the world needs to get faster and smarter in its responses – ideally getting ahead of the virus and its variants before they take off.

To do that, we need to continue to put our scientific ingenuity into developing sophisticated tools that can control not only SARS-CoV-2, but also other coronaviruses, in the longer term. It is time to double down on developing the kinds of innovations that offer us the best chance of anticipating new viruses and new variants, getting ahead of them and hence—finally—moving us towards ending this pandemic.

At CEPI we are supporting the development of vaccines that we hope will protect against a wide range of COVID variants and coronavirus threats. So far, we have funded 13 such projects to develop broadly protective or even “pan-coronavirus” vaccines around the world, with Japan’s NEC as one of our critical partners.

Beyond developing variant-proof and pan-coronavirus vaccines, CEPI is now pioneering much of the vital wider work needed to help the world get ahead of future pandemic threats. Along with G20 nations and the leadership of the G7, whose Presidency has now passed to Japan, we are embarking on an ambitious mission—the 100 Days Mission—to help the world dramatically accelerate the development of new vaccines against emerging viruses so that we can stop them before they spawn deadly pandemics. CEPI is enormously grateful that Japan has embraced the 100 Days Mission as a critical pillar of its G7 Global Health agenda, and I am honored to be contributing to this agenda as an advisor to the G7 Global Health Task Force. I look forward to deepening and strengthening our ties with Japanese institutions as we work towards the shared goal of making epidemics and pandemics a thing of the past.

There’s no doubt in my mind that we have entered a new era of epidemic and pandemic risk, demonstrated in the increasing prevalence, speed and spread of outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging diseases. Even as our political leaders grapple with a host of other crises, now is not the time to deprioritize such threats. We need to recognize that infectious diseases can undermine our health, economic, and even national security—and plan, prepare, and invest accordingly. As the Japanese Government moves toward the Hiroshima G7 meeting in May 2023, it must seize the urgency of the moment and boldly lead the world in preparing to stop future pandemics from crushing the world as COVID-19 has done.