UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


Leading medical innovation and access policy expert joins IIPP

29 October 2020

Els Torreele joins the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) as Visiting Policy Fellow to develop our work on rethinking health innovation.

Els Torreele joins IIPP

IIPP is honoured to welcome Els Torreele as a Visiting Policy Fellow. Els has been working for over two decades at the interface of pharmaceutical research and development (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 as a basic researcher in immunology and parasitology but soon turned her attention towards innovation policy issues that are shaping and governing the agenda setting and commercialisation process of R&D, and their implications on equitable access to medical innovations. 

Throughout her stellar career, Els has not only brought her deep insight and expertise in pharmaceutical innovation policy and practice into championing the cause for access to medicines, but also the creating and implementing groundbreaking models of drug R&D that are driven by public health needs. Her early work on the market and policy failures underlying the dearth of medicines for infectious disease that predominantly affect developing countries at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access to Essential Medicines Campaign was key to the creation of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative in 2003, a nonprofit drug development organisation 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). 

She went on to build the Open Society Foundations Access to Medicines and Innovation program, supporting civil society voices and catalysing thought leadership to promote health innovation and access as a human right. Most recently, she was the Executive Director of the MSF Access Campaign, driving policy advocacy to ensure medical innovation addresses the priority health needs of people globally, and delivers health technologies to those who need it — technologies that are available, affordable and adapted to the local health system.

Els will join forces with IIPP to bring her deep knowledge of public health-driven medical innovation and access policy and practice to enrich IIPP’s economic analysis and policy work, including its Open Society Foundations-funded programme on health innovation, which has led to the influential policy report The people’s prescription: Re-imagining health innovation to deliver public value. She will contribute to research on how health innovation can be more mission-oriented to realise major advances in areas of unmet health need, as well as accessibility and equitable pricing for patients and populations. 

IIPP Founding Director Mariana Mazzucato says,

"I am absolutely thrilled that Els is joining the team, after working together for years, She has been an inspiration in rethinking health innovation for common good, and leading at the forefront to ensure that appropriate medicines, vaccines and diagnostics should be developed in ways that are available, affordable and adapted to people’s needs. Together, we will create new ideas and frameworks to help bring the mission-oriented approach to health innovation so that it can foster collective intelligence and global access."

On joining IIPP, Els says,

I’m excited about this opportunity to engage with Mariana and her team and bring my hands-on experience with medical innovation and access to the economic policy work they are pursuing. Upon reading Mariana’s Entrepreneurial State back in 2014, I was immediately compelled by the narrative and policy framework she presented, and how it was supremely applicable to health innovation, and transformative. When we met shortly afterwards over lunch in New York, an inspiring exchange around the economics of health innovation and public purpose started, and I look forward to deepening this as Visiting Policy Fellow at IIPP. 

Watch What kind of new normal? Addressing the health and climate crises simultaneously featuring Els Toreele and Carlota Perez 

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Read How to Develop a COVID-19 Vaccine for All

Written by Mariana Mazzucato and Els Torreele for Project Syndicate
Strong health systems, adequate testing capacity, and an effective, universally available vaccine will be key to protecting societies from COVID-19. But ensuring that no one is left behind requires not just unprecedented collective investment, but also a very different approach to innovation.
Read more

Learn more about Els Torreele

Learn more about our work in health innovation