Dr. P. Roy Vagelos receives the Lifetime Achievement Award 2018 at the first Xiong’An International Health Forum

November 15, 2018

On November 14, 2018, Dr. P. Roy Vagelos P&S '54 received the Lifetime Achievement Award 2018 for his remarkable contributions to solving major health problems in China and Africa from the Shenzhen World Health Foundation at the first Xiong'An International Health Forum in Hebei, China.

"I'd like to thank everyone here for this wonderful award for the achievements that I've had with my colleagues at the Merck Pharmaceutical company," said Dr. Vagelos.

In 1989, when Dr. Vagelos served as the chairman and CEO of Merck & Co. he made a decision to sell the technology of producing the hepatitis B vaccine to China for $7 million, aiming to help the country fight against its biggest threat to public health. In this project, Merck received no profits or royalties from the sale.

According to Shanghai Daily, in the 1980s, around 120 million carriers of hepatitis B were reported every year in China and 10 percent of newborns acquired chronic hepatitis B from their mothers.

Later on, two plants using local scientists and engineers who had learned from and worked with MSD were built, one in Beijing in 1993 and the other in Shenzhen in 1994. Together they now produce more than 20 million doses per year.

Back by that kind of supply, China's Ministry of Health integrated the hepatitis B vaccination into its nationwide EPI program in 2002. Official research in 2006 shows that infant hepatitis B carriers have been reduced from 9.7 percent in 1992 to less than 1 percent in 2006. Till now, hundreds of millions of infant have received hepatitis B vaccine.

During the same period, under Dr. Vagelos' leadership, Merck also made its antiparasitic drug, ivermectin, free to countries in need, particularly third-world countries in which citizens couldn't afford the price. Over couple of decades now, the disease has not been eradicated, but it's no longer a major health problem in places like Africa.

"I've met over my career a lot of remarkable people, but there's something about Roy that's a bit different," said Professor Lawrence R. Stanberry, Associate Dean for International Programs and Director of the Global Health Initiative at Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. "He is somebody who clearly has an outstanding mind, he's extremely sharp mind, but he's got a very generous heart, and you don't always find that combination in that regard.”

One year ago, Dr. Vagelos and his wife Diana made another major donation to Columbia University up to $250 million for the University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, bringing the couple's total support for medicine at Columbia to more than $310 million. A major portion of the gift will help eliminate student loans and provide full-tuition scholarships to the students in greatest need.

"The Vagelos' gift is just one example of his humanitarianism," said Lee Goldman, Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine, and Chief Executive of Columbia University Irving Medical Center. "Another, which we've seen in China and in Africa, is a real example of his humanitarianism. Millions and millions of people had been saved. It's really my privilege to let my congratulations to Roy, upon receiving this Lifetime Achievement Award. Congratulations!"