UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


Els Torreele

Els Torreele is a Policy Associate at the UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose (IIPP).

Els Torreele
Els Torreele has worked for over two decades at the interface of pharmaceutical R&D, human rights and access to medicines, and policy analysis and advocacy around biomedical innovation and access. A bioengineer and PhD in biomedical sciences from the Free University Brussels (VUB), she started to work at the university on innovation policy issues related to R&D agenda-setting, patenting of research, and the commercialization of biotechnology research. 

In 2000, Els Torreele joined the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access to Essential Medicines Campaign in its pioneering years as chair of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Working Group, a multidisciplinary think tank to advance needs-driven R&D for diseases that primarily affect developing countries. A key outcome was the creation in 2003 of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (www.DNDi.org), a nonprofit drug development organization which she joined as a founding team member. At DNDi, she led several R&D projects from discovery through clinical trials, which included uncovering and driving the development of fexinidazole, which is now available to patients as the first all-oral treatment for Human African Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness). 

In 2009, she joined the Open Society Foundations in New York to lead their Access to Medicines and Innovation work, advancing health and human rights in the area of medicines with a focus on governance, transparency and accountability, and supporting civil society voices and thought leadership in policy making that shapes access to medicines and innovation. 

She returned to MSF in March 2017 as the Executive Director of the Access Campaign, leading for three years a global analysis and advocacy team working to ensure that appropriate medicines, vaccines and diagnostics are developed, available, affordable and adapted to people’s needs.

She is a Science Honorary Fellow at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) since 2016, and serves on the Board of the AGORA Open Science Trust (www.agoraopensciencetrust.org/, to accelerate the discovery and development of affordable new medicines through open science), since January 2019. She’s also a member of the Reference Advisory Group of the Health Justice Initiative (www.healthjusticeinitiative.org.za/), a new public health and law initiative in South Africa addressing the intersection between racial and gender inequality and COVID-19, with a special focus on access to life saving diagnostics, treatment and vaccines (since July 2020). She also served as a Board member for DNDi from 2011-2016. Over the years, she’s been guest lecturer in different post-graduate courses at the Brussels University, the Antwerp University, the Antwerp Tropical Medicine Institute, the Swiss Tropical Medicine Institute, and Columbia University.

Selected publications

Journal articles
Academic working papers
In the media
Media coverage on Els Torreele contribution to the development of fexinidazole, a new sleeping sickness drug developed by DNDi:
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