By Mary Hearty

Dr Luiz Pizarro, a medical doctor and global health expert is the new Executive Director of the Drugs for Neglected Tropical Diseases initiative (DNDi), an international non-profit medical research organization.

The global health expert succeeds Dr Bernard Pécoul, who founded the organization 19 years ago. Under his tenure, DNDi will seek to deliver another 13 treatments by 2028, to help build a more equitable system for innovation and access.

This is by confronting climate-sensitive diseases, bolstering innovation for children’s health, advancing gender-responsive R&D, and ensuring that the benefits of new research and medical technologies extend to the most neglected patients.

“I am deeply honoured and excited to take on this new role,” Dr Pizarro said. “Today’s numerous global challenges – from climate change to economic instability – will continue to exert a disproportionate burden on the most vulnerable people on our planet. We are already seeing the rise of climate-sensitive diseases like dengue, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown how the fruits of medical innovation continue to be denied to the majority of the world’s population. More than ever, there is a need for patient-centric not-for-profit drug development models like DNDi.”

Dr Pizarro became the first CEO of Solthis from 2007 until 2019, an international health organization dedicated to increasing access to care for HIV, maternal health, and other infectious diseases in West Africa.

In 2020, he joined the leadership team of Unitaid to manage the organization’s HIV portfolio and related access programmes. He also serves as founder and member of the Global Health 2030 think tank, as scientific advisor for Global Health at Sciences Po Paris, and as board member of Sidaction.

Dr Pécoul said: “I am happy to pass the torch on to Luis and I am confident that he will steer DNDi to fulfil the organization’s commitments to deliver 25 new treatments in our first 25 years.

“To reach that ambitious goal, DNDi will continue to foster South-South cooperation and cross-regional collaborations, integrate innovations originating in low- and middle-income countries, and strengthen clinical research network in endemic regions. Luis is the ideal person to lead that effort.”

Under Dr Pécoul’s vision and leadership, DNDi delivered 12 new treatments for neglected diseases such as sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, or for young children and infants with HIV.

It succeeded in establishing strong working partnerships with academia, public research institutions, and global pharmaceutical companies that historically had little interest in neglected diseases, showing that an alternative model for drug development, focused on patients’ needs and not on profit, can deliver.

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Chair of the DNDi Board said Dr Pizarro brings to DNDi a long record of successful leadership improving access to healthcare for vulnerable populations, deep expertise in global health, and a passion for bringing likeminded stakeholders together in pursuit of a common vision.

She stated: “He is uniquely equipped to lead DNDi into its next chapter, and I look forward to accompanying him as he works to deliver on our mission and nurture the strategic alliances that power our progress. On behalf of the Board, I thank Bernard for his extraordinary leadership and remarkable dedication to building DNDi into the impactful product development partnership it is today.”