Dr. P. Roy  Vagelos

Dr. P. Roy Vagelos M.D.

1997 in Medicine

Dr. P. Roy Vagelos graduated from Columbia’s college of Physicians and Surgeons in 1954 and also holds honorary degree from 9 universities. Dr. Vagelos was the former President and Chief Executive officer of Merck & Co., Inc., and now Chairman Board of Trustees of the University of Pernsylvania, U.S.A.
Dr. Vagelos has devoted his career to health care, biomedical research and medical discovery. He discovered and produced medicine that extend and enhance life and has given a lot of efforts to promote global health as a public service.
Dr. Roy Vagelos was presented with a dilemna and an opportunity in 1986. For a decade, Invermectin had proven to be a miracle drug against heartworm in dogs, requiring use only once a month. Now the same drug had been found to be a microfilaricide in human onchocerciasis. In humans, it was even more of a miracle drug, preventing blindness from that disease if given only once a year.
The dilemna was that a drug given once a year to the poorest people in the world would provide no profit. The opportunity was in the potential benefits for millions of people in Africa and Central America.
Dr. Vagelos decided on a course as bold as it was unprecedented. He committed Merck to provide Invermectin (Mectizan) free for human use in the treatment of onchocerciasis in perpetuity. He set a new standard for corporations to balance the needs of the market-place and social needs as they strive to use their science in the service of people.
The gift from Merck & Co., Inc, has resulted in one of the most dynamic evolutions in the history of global health. Global agencies, such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, The World Bank, have teamed up with the Task Force for Child Survival and Development, foundations, non-governmental organnizations, church groups, ministries of health and communities to provide a structure and mechanism to distribute the drug annually to those at risk.
Starting with a few hundred thousand recipients in 1988, the distribution capacity grew, year by year, with 23 million people reached in 1996. The continued expansion of the program has been gratifying and it is expected that 35 million may be reached in 1997. Despite greater than expected use, Merck & Co., Inc. continues to supply the drug free and supports an independent Mectizan Expert Committee to insure proper use of the medication.
Finally, the impact has exceeded the most optimistic predictions. Not only has blindness decreased, not only have fertile lands become available again for human use, but the drug has also provided daily short term benefits as it effectively treats round worms, whipworm, and other helminths. A single dicision by Dr. Roy Vagelos has improved the quality of life for million now living and will reverberate through all future generations.