NOTE: Todd Kennedy is a National Account Executive for Merck, who is working for three months at IDRI as part of the Merck Fellowship for Global Health program. Kennedy and another Merck fellow, Susan Galea, are working on the HIV Cure Initiative, for which IDRI serves as the fiscal sponsor.

This is the Richard T. Clark Fellowship for Global Health, right? Wait, then what is a California guy doing in Seattle, Washington? In 12 short weeks can my fellow colleague Susan Galea and I make a significant global impact from the land of salmon, apples and grunge? toddkennedy2These are the questions I was considering, before work on day 1 as I was sipping espresso from the original Starbucks at Pike Place Market.

By 8:30 a.m., the potential and promise of our assignment came into focus. From the window of our sponsor’s conference room, you can literally see the offices of pivotal public and private stakeholders including leading NGOs (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation), academia, pharma and biotech. It seems clear that the key to addressing global health challenges is collaboration among trusted partners, many of whom are located right here in the Pacific Northwest.

Working with the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI), Susan and I have been asked to: “support development of an ‘investment case’ that will set forth a global health and economic rationale to catalyze multi-sector engagement in a strategic, collaborative effort to identify, develop, and distribute a cure for HIV that will be accessible in both high- and low-resource geographic settings.”

Wow!, that’s a tall task for sure, but we certainly aren’t alone! I have been astounded by the collaborative spirit and support we have already received from brilliant internal and external experts and leaders. The spirit of collaboration is alive amongst the world leaders in HIV research, policy, and strategy that serve on the HIV Cure Initiative governance board, steering committee and working groups.

On a daily basis, Susan and I have been granted direct access to this extraordinary assembly of experts. This who’s-who list includes a Nobel Laureate, directors at the NIH, a former U.N. ambassador, and other brilliant minds. Prior to each meeting, as I prepare and review the CVs I am humbled and awed. Each meeting is intellectually stimulating and challenging—it’s a mental cross-fit exercise. To keep up and stay sharp, I must remain heavily caffinated all day. Thank goodness there is a Starbucks within 10 paces in every direction!

In all of my 26 years at Merck, the past 10 days have been the clearest demonstration of the “One Merck” spirit. Yesterday , a Merck leader told me, “we are “1000% behind you”.   To my colleagues who are covering for me back home, to the HIV science and strategy team and to the Office of Corporate Responsibility, I am 1,000 % appreciative for your support and for this once-in- a- career opportunity! Through your contributions you are on this fellowship journey with us.

Again, collaboration is the key to improving global health. In tribute to my Fellow colleagues in Zambia, Uganda and around the world, this African proverb resonates, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

[author] [author_image timthumb=’off’][/author_image] [author_info]Posted by Todd Kennedy, Merck Fellow
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