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From critic to chief: Carolin Schumacher begins to shape GALVmed strategy for 2030

Last year, Carolin Schumacher took over the leadership of GALVmed from the retiring Peter Jeffries. Animal Pharm editor Joseph Harvey spoke to the new chief executive about the organization's changing responsibilities in creating a holistic approach for animal medicines in Africa.

Prior to becoming the chief executive of GALVmed, Carolin Schumacher already had a history of working with the Edinburgh-based organization.

"For the longest time, I was a fairly critical eye on the GALVmed board," she told Animal Pharm. "It is not so easy to identify the synergies between an organization that wants to improve the livelihood of smallholder livestock farmers and the animal health industry businesses that need to optimize their investments. It takes time to see where these two worlds meet."

Before becoming a trustee herself in 2015, Dr Schumacher represented founding member Merial on the GALVmed board of trustees. According to her own words she was noted for her passion as much as for her outspokenness.

Now, she is proactively reshaping GALVmed's strategy from the inside as chief executive. While she brings experience from the animal health industry – she was previously with Virbac, Merial and Boehringer Ingelheim – Dr Schumacher also brings with her insights into vaccine development, OIE-listed infectious diseases, as well as experience working with governments and legislators.

"I'm a veterinarian by training but very quickly, after my studies, I was attracted by those invisible little warriors that cause so many problems to the health of people and animals," she explained. My PhD thesis was on rabies vaccination and I passionately dedicated around 15 years of my career to rabies control in foxes, raccoons and dogs."

At Merial, she was heavily involved in the firm's oral rabies vaccine program and built the business case leading to the development of the first European bluetongue vaccine. Dr Schumacher went on to lead Merial's veterinary public health franchise, which partners with governments on controlling diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.

"Last year, after 25 years in the animal health industry, I decided it was time for me to move on," she said. "I did so by following the red thread that is going through my entire career. The One Health concept is so integral in my thinking. I have always seen animals as a major component of improving human life."

Evolving GALVmed strategy

Dr Schumacher is very frank about what she considers GALVmed's past shortcomings but believes the organization is unique and has achieved a considerable amount in its first decade.

"By working with smallholder farmers for 10 years, we realize how much of a simplistic approach we actually took at the beginning," she explained. "It's not a criticism, however, because we had to start somewhere. Everything is easier with hindsight.

"We attempt to learn from past experiences and others working in the field to become more impactful in the future. While our initial goal was to increase the availability of critically important veterinary medicines to smallholder farmers with the aim to improve health and productivity of their livestock, we are today putting equal emphasis on identifying ways to improve the delivery of products to remote rural areas.

"Further, we try to lift systemic barriers that impede the functioning of local markets for veterinary medicines. This work is often targeting legislative or infrastructure gaps and is done in support of competent partners. Examples of such work are the successful establishment of a 'Mutual Recognition Process' in East Africa and the development of a 'Public Private Partnership Handbook' in collaboration with the OIE.

"Another important observation is that animal health is only one of several issues that smallholder farmers must tackle. Lack of other inputs such as feed or young stock can also be an issue, as can be the price or lack of access to market for animal-derived products.

"Today we think that if we want our interventions to reap a measurable benefit for smallholder farmers, we need to understand the entire value chain and take a collaborative approach working with other value chain partners. With so much added complexity, designing meaningful programs with actual impact is a major challenge," she explained.

Dr Schumacher added: "But equally, there is so much opportunity. No matter where we look, we see success stories and more work to be done. Going forward, we want to understand our stakeholders even better. We are not at the end of the story but see the opportunity growing. Every five years our key funders, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department of International Development, become more ambitious and so do we."

Link with industry, regulators

GALVmed's two main stakeholders are the smallholder farming communities in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and the animal health industry. Animals are a valuable possession to smallholder farmers and, just like any farmer in the world, they take great pride in their health and well-being.

Once available, most smallholder farmers recognize the value of veterinary medicines and are willing to pay, provided the benefits are proportional with cost.

"With up to 90% of livestock production being assured by smallholder farmers in some countries, we believe the smallholder sector does represent good business potential," Dr Schumacher said.

"GALVmed sees itself as a strong advocate for investment in the segment. Supporting and de-risking of animal health industry activities that target smallholder farmers is our role and makes us unique."

Carolin Schumacher: "There is a big difference between being actively engaged and exploring Africa and South Asia. There are a lot of things that still need to happen before low-to-middle-income countries can be considered an easy terrain for the animal health industry."

The involvement of the top animal health businesses in the African market for veterinary medicines has begun to improve notably in the last few years, with the Gates Foundation supporting Zoetis, Ceva Santé Animale, Boehringer Ingelheim and Elanco.

GALVmed is working with its partners to create better understanding of the investment opportunities for the private sector in the sub-Saharan African and southern Asian animal health space. Dr Schumacher said companies that are established in these markets fare quite well – it is the entry into these markets that is the greater hurdle.

She commented: "In the past, we managed funds and projects for the animal health industry with de-risked investment from our funders. That made it simple for the industry to become interested in targeted low-to-middle-income countries. But interest did not necessarily translate into long-term engagement and sustainable business.

"There is a big difference between being actively engaged and exploring Africa and South Asia as a potential business environment. There are a lot of things that still need to happen before low-to-middle-income countries can be considered an easy terrain for the animal health industry.

"This is another reason why we believe the value chain approach is our best bet. When key gaps in the value chain are addressed, companies encounter a more predictable environment.

"More and more, companies realize they cannot ignore countries in Africa or South Asia where tomorrow, most of the world's population will live, and demand for animal health protein is projected to grow significantly.

"Higher numbers of animals in countries with more fragile biosecurity systems are likely to increase the pressure of infectious animal diseases. Many of these diseases have been controlled in the northern hemisphere and companies have started to rationalize these traditional vaccines.

"Safeguarding these vaccines as part of the global veterinary medicine portfolio will be important, particularly if infectious diseases considered controlled re-appear. With smallholders forming such an important source of milk, meat and eggs for the future, more companies may discover that serving smallholders is a profitable business."

GALVmed's vaccine work

In the decade since its inception, GALVmed has brought eight products to the African smallholder market and achieved proof-of-concept for another eight. Around 2.5 million households have been reached – mainly through partners with farmer-facing resources – and an estimated $167 million worth of livestock disease mortalities have been averted.

Currently, the organization is working on seven new livestock vaccines, which it hopes will have a significant positive impact when they reach the smallholder market.

Dr Schumacher said: "Our most recent funding proposal prioritizes combination vaccines for small ruminants, cattle and poultry. This approach was chosen because diagnosis in the field is often made clinically, while the underlying pathogens are not identified. Reproductive and respiratory disease of small ruminants may be caused by one or a combination of different pathogens.

"The probability of preventing such disease syndromes with a combo vaccine not only increases the probability of keeping animals healthy, it also is expected to reduce time and effort needed for vaccination by veterinary staff."

One of these vaccines is a small ruminant multivalent systemic vaccine that targets multiple sheep and goat diseases – peste des petits ruminants, contagious caprine pleuropneumonia, sheep and goat pox and Rift Valley fever – potentially in a single shot. Dr Schumacher said GALVmed is close to partnering with an animal health company for the development of this vaccine.

GALVmed commercial development work

GALVmed also runs commercial development projects, as well as managing technology improvements and vaccine and drug development.

"Under our current grant, we are experimenting with five different distribution models that attempt to serve smallholder farmers," explained Dr Schumacher. "We work with commercial partners in different countries, trying to identify approaches that can improve the reach and delivery into the smallholder segment of veterinary products and services. Some are still at the business planning stage and some have already started trading, such as projects in India and Tanzania."

These projects see the organization working with a mixture of local companies and multinational firms. GALVmed is working with Hester Biosciences in India, while Boehringer Ingelheim is its partner in multiple countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Schumacher added: "The monitoring and evaluation element of these commercial projects is of particular interest. Measuring impact of veterinary medicine distribution and use at smallholder level is difficult but we go to great length to evaluate and understand the benefit our projects might have for smallholder farmers.  

"We share these findings with business-minded international, regional and local animal health players with the intention to stimulate business interest and a response to the demand of smallholder farmers. When use of quality veterinary medicines translates into better animal health, nutrition and greater income for smallholder livestock farmers, then the foundation for a sustainable local animal health business is laid. That is when our projects reach their tipping point and GALVmed is no longer needed."

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