“This ‘invisible pandemic’ is one of the biggest global health challenges”

Dr Riad Dirani specializes in researching the clinical, economic and human impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and diabetes. Riad outlines how his work is helping tackle an “invisible epidemic” and how his Dad’s unexpected experience with diabetes led him to a career in the pharma industry.

I have quite a unique job. I’m fortunate enough to lead a group of scientists and researchers who take a holistic approach to understanding diseases. We investigate the impact of diseases on patients, those around them, health systems, and on society as a whole. It allows us then to highlight the benefits of certain treatments in addressing the unmet medical needs in these disease areas.

NCDs represent one of the biggest global health challenges. That isn’t an exaggeration. NCDs cannot be directly transmitted from one person to another and are linked to factors like obesity and poor diet, alcohol, smoking and so on. They can have both an enormous human impact and significant effect on healthcare systems, as many are not set up to deal with long-term and often multiple diseases.

The statistics are shocking. NCDs such as cancer and heart disease kill 41 million people each year. That is equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally 01.

NCDs have been described as an “invisible epidemic” 02 and it’s not hard to see why. These diseases disproportionately affect people in low and middle-income countries 03 and hinder the economic development of many nations 04. Thankfully, NCDs and their impact have been getting a higher profile in healthcare over the last two decades, but there is still a long way to go.

Teva has the biggest medicine cabinet in the world. Our expertise covers many different condition areas and we produce over 3500 products, including many of those on the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines List. This includes 83% of cardiovascular treatments, 73% of cancer treatments and 87% of diabetes treatments 05. Nearly two-hundred million people rely on our medicines every day so there is such a big potential to help improve people’s lives.

My Dad was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes when I was pursuing my graduate degree. It was quite shocking initially, and was the main reason why I decided to pursue a career in the pharma industry after completing my PhD in health services research and health economics. I saw the direct impact diabetes had on him. But I also saw the changes he made in his lifestyle and behavior to tackle it. He knew the importance and the positive impact of the medications that were prescribed – life-saving medicines he has been taking religiously for the past 25 years to treat this NCD. Adherence is a behavior, and seeing the benefits of adherence has reinforced this behavior change in him. It is a strong cycle he has built. Seeing its effect motivated me to do what I do today.

Always know and remember your ‘why’. This is the advice I share. I know my ‘why’. It’s what drives me. Remembering this helps me recalibrate, refocus, and realign. I know from speaking with colleagues that many of them gravitated to the industry due to personal experiences that shaped their ‘why’.

Data, data, data. This is the backbone of most of the work we do. We collect and analyse information from lots of different sources in order to collect scientific evidence and generate insights. This information can often be messy, but when we work through it, the big picture slowly starts to form. We start to understand the burden of the disease on people and healthcare systems. We can identify unmet medical needs and see whether certain medicines, technology or other health solutions are (or can) make a difference.

You might have heard doctor’s talk about ‘adherence’ and ‘compliance’. At its core, this relates to whether people are taking their medicine at the right time, in the right way and in the right dose. Research has shown that this is a problem across the board but is particularly challenging when dealing with NCDs 06. For example, if a patient is taking three or four different medicines each day – as many do – it can be hard to keep track of what to take, when and how often.

Some people struggle to pay for their medication. To make it last longer they may feel the need to only take their medicine every other day, rather than daily, as their prescription recommends. This can have significant short and long term consequences for the management on their illnesses.

Technology has a big role to play. This is true both now and in the future. The use of smart devices and wearables, such as a smart watches, have the potential to increase adherence and improve the overall management of a person’s health. “Smart” reminders and notifications, timely feedback and built-in reward systems can – and do – improve motivation for taking the medicine regularly.

Purpose is vital for me. The thing that gets me up and ready every day is working at a company and in an industry that makes a difference in people’s lives. I’ve seen this first-hand from my Dad’s experience. It makes me very proud knowing that we live and breathe our purpose every day.


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    World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases, ‘Non-communicable Diseases’, Fact-sheet, 1 June 2018.

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    World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases, Non-communicable Diseases’, Fact-sheet, 1 June 2018.

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    Statistics verified by Global Portfolio team - December 2020

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Giancarlo Francese

Giancarlo Francese

Half of the people around the world lack access to medicines. It’s Giancarlo’s job to help improve that statistic, working to find new ways of increasing access globally to our medicines, both in countries where Teva has a presence, but also in low-income countries where we don’t.

Read more Giancarlo Francese

Ensuring medicines are discovered, designed, manufactured and delivered to patients takes an incredible amount of collaboration and coordination

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Date of preparation: September 2021
Reference: COB-IE-NP-00039