Campus Biotech "Learn & Lunch" Event
Dr. Dubois [Director of Campus Biotech],
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be with you today for this month’s virtual “Learn & Lunch” event at Campus Biotech. I wish to thank the organizers for making this event possible, despite challenging circumstances.
It is an honor to meet so many health and biotechnology professionals, medical experts, scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators who are at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. I would like to pay tribute to the world’s leading COVID-19 vaccine developers, who are member companies of Campus Biotech, for their efforts in the service of humanity.
It is said that we are living in the “Age of Biology”. Extraordinary progress in the life sciences, notably in biotechnology, has opened some of the most promising vistas in history towards improving human health. These advances have equipped scientists with new tools to address the most pressing challenges of our time, such as global health, climate change and food security. Some of this progress has been achieved right here in Switzerland, from advances in treatment for drug-resistant malaria to research on drugs against the influenza virus. Swiss biotech companies are also leading in many other innovations, such as cell and gene therapy, gene-editing and artificial intelligence.
Thanks to biotechnology, researchers worldwide are developing new vaccines to combat both long-standing and newly emerging viruses which claim millions of lives a year and take a disproportionate toll on many developing countries.
This brings me to the first issue I would like to address today, the COVID-19. Everywhere we look we are reminded of the rising cases, now over 60 million. Many are still under lockdown. Life as we know it has come to a screeching halt, from the global economy, to education, to employment and to travel.
This pandemic has demonstrated so palpably the critical need for greater collective action and global solidarity. The COVID-19 pandemic has once again proven that a single country cannot tackle such challenge alone and that international cooperation is the most effective tool to address global threats, including ones related to health. In order to move forward and rebuild better, we need a strengthened multilateral system with the United Nations firmly at its core. The 75th anniversary of the United Nations, which we are celebrating this year, provides us with an important opportunity to reflect together on ways to transform the current multilateral system towards a much more networked and inclusive one.
The multilateralism of the future does not include only governments, but also civil society, the business community, academia, youth leaders and many other stakeholders.
As emphasized during the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity held in September, health and biotechnology specialists have a vital role to play in this new paradigm. The fast-developing field of biotechnology has the potential to fast track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, our shared blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. As I mentioned earlier, global health, climate change and food security are some of areas where biotechnology has revolutionary potential.
This brings me to the second topic I would like to address here today – public health – the driving force behind your work and its ultimate reward. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought health to the core of all our actions. It has also put the spotlight on the important and interdependent nature of public health. In fact, over one third of the Sustainable Development Goal indicators are health-related, and SDG 3 on “Good Health and Well-being” is universal and underpins everything we do.
In other words, health is much more than just medical care. It is also good nutrition. Over 700 million people go to bed hungry and 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. Health is quality education and ensuring that all children are taught ways to prevent sickness and disease. Health is about the environment. Air pollution kills 7 million people a year and is one of the leading causes of death in the developing world. Health is about lifestyle choices. Nearly 2 billion adults are overweight and a third of those are obese. It is about mental health and spiritual well-being, especially today as we are challenged by COVID-19. Finally, health, which is a fundamental human right, is ultimately about peace itself.
Since its inception, the United Nations and its partners have been actively protecting and promoting the health and well-being of people everywhere. Despite the pandemic, the Organization has continued its work and found new ways to support its Member States and to cooperate with its partners. We coordinate activities, deliver equipment and supplies and offer health training. We support governments with policy expertise and the development of international standards for health. We are at the center of efforts to ensure equitable access to therapies and vaccines as well as to many other health-related necessities. The World Health Organization is leading these crucial efforts within the UN System.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The most promising innovations of the 21st century will likely be at the intersection between health and biotechnology. Some say that overcoming the greatest health challenges would even be impossible without scientific progress in this field. This now brings me to the next topic I would like to discuss with you today – the responsibilities and risks in the world of biotechnology today.
Biotechnology represents the best of human progress at the service of humanity. However, to ensure that the net outcome remains a positive one, this scientific balance must be nurtured carefully. When used negligently, or misused deliberately, biotechnology could inflict profound human suffering, ranging from the accidental release of harmful agents into the environment to intentional disease outbreaks.
The United Nations has many mechanisms in place, including UNESCO’s “Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights”, to ensure that advances in biotechnology are not used – directly or indirectly - to erode human rights, deepen inequality or exacerbate existing discrimination.
The capabilities of biotechnology also pose grave challenges to arms control. The cornerstone of efforts to control the misuse of biology, particularly the Biological Weapons Convention, should use more comprehensively its potential to enhance international transparency and to decrease the mistrust that could drive new weapons programmes.
Now that we have explored the synergetic relationship between health and biotechnology, in addition to the critical importance of multilateralism as a vehicle through which great progress can be achieved, allow me to conclude by reflecting on the role of International Geneva. Home to over 80 UN and other international organizations, 180 Permanent Missions of Member States, 750 non-governmental organizations, a dynamic private sector and prominent academic, health and science institutions, this city is a powerhouse for innovative practices in biotechnology and global health. Campus Biotech is testament to this. The many actors working in Geneva create a perfect ecosystem to address frontier issues and emerging challenges while leveraging the presence and passage of global leaders in the Geneva region.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The United Nations is well-placed to coordinate and catalyze action in the fields of health and science. But more importantly, the United Nations is a central platform to ensure that humanity is not deprived of the enormous positive benefits that biotechnology offers.
To succeed, we need inspiration and support from all of you – health and biotechnology specialists, academics, civic leaders, business leaders and students. We need the spirit of discovery and learning that drives great institutions such as this one.
Thank you again to Campus Biotech for this opportunity to engage with all of you today.