When it comes to healthcare innovation, we live in a rapidly changing world. Nowhere was this more apparent than at last week’s 9th annual Prix Galien USA Awards Gala.

Last Tuesday, Makovsky had the honor and pleasure of collaborating with The Galien Foundation in support if its annual Galien Forum and prestigious Prix Galien USA Awards Gala.

The 6th Galien Forum took place at the Alexandria Center for Life Sciences and featured panels of Nobel laureates, deans of medical schools, esteemed researchers, and biopharmaceutical CEOs in a day-long program discussing the challenging issues facing the development of innovative therapies. The evening event, the 9th annual Prix Galien USA Awards Gala, was held at the American Museum of Natural History and awarded prizes for Best Pharmaceutical Agent (Janssen Biotech & Pharmacyclics’ IMBRUVICA), Best Biotechnology Product (BMS’ OPDIVO and Merck’s KEYTRUDA), and Best Medical Technology (T2 Biosystems’ T2Candida Panel).

In the midst of this “who’s who” of biopharmaceutical research, two speeches resonated in the American Museum of Natural History’s magnificent Blue Whale Room last Tuesday night.

The first came from Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., recipient of this year’s Pro Bono Humanum Award – and notably the first female recipient, a renowned geneticist prominently recognized for her work in identifying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, mutations of which have been linked to breast and ovarian cancers (much-publicized by Angelina Jolie Pitt). Before presenting the award, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of The Rockefeller University, described Professor King as a “free spirit” who has marched to the beat of her own drum throughout the course of her career.

In her acceptance speech, Professor King proved that idiom to be an apt description. Acutely aware of her audience and remarking upon the incredible opportunity that this platform allowed her, she turned the Galien podium into the pulpit for her next lecture, passionately – yet with the objectivity of someone who has spent a lifetime in academia – advocating for genetic sequencing of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes to be offered to all women, as part of routine medical care. While it may be some time before we see her call-to-action realized, it is made all the more feasible by rapid improvements in DNA sequencing technologies, which have decreased the cost of such tests from $4,000 to $250 over the past few years.

In the evening’s Keynote Address, William Campbell, Ph.D., the recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, spoke from the height of medical achievement when discussing the anti-parasitic compound, Ivermectin, which earned him Nobel recognition. Ivermectin was first studied in dogs to treat heartworm disease and was then found to be enormously successful in preventing river blindness (also known as onchocerciasis), which afflicts millions in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South America. Through the success of Ivermectin, programs have since shifted their emphasis from controlling river blindness to eliminating it altogether. It is currently under control in many countries and has been crossed off the list of public health diseases in many more.

King spoke from a position of advocacy and Campbell from the culmination of success, but both understood that there are few industries that come so close to and impact so greatly the lives that interact with it. Coming from an event that is typically laudatory in tone, it was stirring to hear the commitment and activism of these global healthcare leaders. The Galien Foundation is known for applauding such achievement, yet it also serves an important role as a motivator and driver of healthcare innovation and change. As a crucial benchmark in this ever-evolving space, the Prix Galien helps us to keep track of the pace of change to ensure that we are setting goals that match it.

Perhaps it helps to be wearing a bow-tie while contemplating such lofty goals, but at the end of the day, they should be in all of our sights.

– Michael Francoeur, Account Associate

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