Dick Wilder is the General Counsel and Head of Business Development at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. He spoke with Sharon Light, senior manager for our alumni network, about his career, how the global health community is evolving, and the part he played in getting the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery off the ground.
Sharon Light: You have worked at a number of interesting organizations since you left Sidley. Could you reflect on your path over the last years?
Dick Wilder: I left Sidley to join Microsoft, where I started and led the Intellectual Property Policy team for several years. But I also had worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for several years prior to that when it was a Sidley client and was invited to join them in-house, which I accepted. I was Associate General Counsel on the Global Health Program, doing a broad range of legal and policy work around the development of drugs, vaccines and diagnostics. At the Foundation, I was involved in formation and early discussions around funding and scope for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI. When an opportunity came up to join CEPI, it was very compelling and I accepted the challenge.
Sharon: What does CEPI work on?
Dick: Our task is to develop vaccines that should be deployed in the face of emerging epidemics or pandemic diseases, as well as developing new platforms that can more rapidly develop and bring to market a vaccine against epidemic and pandemic diseases. CEPI was announced at the World Economic Forum a couple of years ago, motivated by the failure of the public health community in the face of the Ebola crisis some years ago. The reaction to it and the tools to deal with this emerging potential pandemic were just not sufficient. The idea was to set up an organization that would be purpose built to fund the development of vaccines.
CEPI operates in ways similar to the Gates Foundation in that it funds scientific research and development activities. CEPI’s funding is broad-based – we have secured $750 million toward our one billion funding target, with multi-year funding from Norway, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Wellcome. CEPI has also received single-year investments from the governments of Belgium and the UK. The European Commission foresees substantial financial contributions to support relevant projects through its mechanisms.
Sharon: You must deal with a wide variety of issues. Are there any particular trends in the field of global health that you’ve noticed?
Dick: There are several trends that I’ve seen emerge over the last 20 years. I joined Sidley out of the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva where I did a lot of work in collaboration with the World Health Organization and other institutions. When I came back to the U.S. and joined Sidley in 2002, it was at a time when the global health community was trying to figure out a way to bring together public money and public interest with the private sector’s capabilities in research and development, and to bring to market drugs and vaccines against some of the world’s most terrible diseases. Over the last 20 years, those efforts have become much more sophisticated. The approaches around these public/private partnerships would not have been possible without the participation of a wide range of actors, including companies, universities and governments to undertake the research to bring these products to market.
The other trend that has been evolving is the thinking around the relationship between global economic regulation, trade rules, intellectual property, access to medicines and drug and vaccines development. Trying to figure out approaches to manage those relationships, and to integrate strong participation by the private sector with activities that have more of a public interest goal in mind is still a work in progress but has advanced a lot over the past 20 years. The organizations working in global health are really up to speed with each other’s work, so we can work together to take common positions and approaches.
Sharon: Is there an accomplishment you would point to as one of your proudest achievements?
Dick: When I was at Sidley, working with the Gates Foundation, they were starting to put together what eventually became the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery. I remember having several large meetings in Sidley’s offices in Washington, D.C., bringing together research scientists and representatives of other institutions working in this space, to figure out how we would be able to structure an agreement that would allow these scientists—many of whom had enormous egos—to share information, data and materials in a way they hadn’t done before. That was one of my proudest accomplishments, helping to manage those discussions and put together the necessary legal arrangements that enabled the initiative to actually begin work. It’s proven to be a very durable agreement; the work is still ongoing and very successful after 12 years.
Sharon: Were there any particular skills you learned at Sidley that helped you in-house?
Dick: One thing that Sidley did very well and continues to do is to exercise a high degree of discipline about the way work is done and the analysis that goes into it. It was something that I take very much to heart now, having that rigor and discipline. It was always important to me to recognize the intersection and interaction across different areas of law – which is very much at the core of how Sidley operates. My background is more strongly in intellectual property, but we were able to approach matters in a very cross disciplinary way across Sidley.
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