Public health is one health
“It is good to see the topsector plan and the Regiegroep Life Sciences & Health explicitly include not only pharma, biotech and medtech but animal health, as well. Diseases increasingly cross species lines. In fact, over 60% of the pathogens affecting humans are zoonotic in origin. The health of people, animals and the environment are so inextricably linked that we should really think of public health as one health.
Veterinary medicine has a lot to contribute to both the quality and cost of healthcare. Clinical trials in animals can double as animal models for human drug development. This would accelerate the process of innovation and add another (and earlier) source of revenue. It would also, importantly, mean less animal testing for experimental rather than healing purposes. Many new viruses emerge in wildlife before crossing via domesticated animals to humans. Veterinary research into ecosystems goes to the source of such zoonoses, enables the development of vaccines and thinks about prevention and containment long before the disease spreads to humans.
Ecosystems do not exist in Africa alone. Large concentrations of animals scatter dust and pathogens. It is well established that intensive poultry or pig farming can cause increased incidence of COPD in humans. The Dutch Municipal Health Services (GGD) have just argued for strict norms on residential construction in a 250 to 1,000 meter radius of so-called ‘mega stables’ – and no houses closer than 250 meters. In addition to environmental impact assessments, we could, and should, be seeing public health impact assessments for new housing developments.
Veterinary medicine is literally ahead of human medicine – and figuratively too. Animals have no health insurance or publicly funded healthcare system. Entrepreneurs and clients must pay for medicines themselves. Although this can lead to excesses (when, for example, antibiotics have become so cheap that they become a management tool), it also means that veterinary innovation is experienced at quantifying the benefits to users and demonstrating they outweigh the cost. And that is something human healthcare innovation must also learn to do.
People, animals and our environment are part of the same ecosystems and the health of each largely depends on the others. In that sense, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts – if the parts work together in their common interest: One Health.”
All for one, one for all
- Take a “One Health” approach to healthcare innovation
- Use clinical animal trials to accelerate human drug development and reduce animal testing
- Learn from veterinary experience in quantifying and comparing benefits and costs
Anton Pijpers is dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University. Before that he led the restructuring, privatization and international expansion of the Animal Health Service in Deventer. He plays a pivotal role in value creation and entrepreneurship at Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht and chairs Utrecht Life Sciences and Immunovalley. In addition to these and other positions, he also serves on the boards of several small companies.