Tuesday, March 16, 2021, 5:30 p.m.
As Delivered (virtual)
Kalispera, good afternoon everybody. Let me start by thanking the Council on Competitiveness and the Athens School of Medicine for inviting me this afternoon to participate and to talk about how clinical trials can help to grow the Greek economy and build closer relations between our research and business communities.
I especially want to thank my friend Simos, who has done so much to build trade and economic ties between Greece and the United States during my time here, and especially the collaboration we had which was so fantastically successful around the 2018 Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).
And I think back to that often because, of course, two of the leading exhibitors at the AmCham-Embassy pavilion at TIF were Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, and in 2017, when I first went to go visit with Albert Bourla at Pfizer headquarters in New York City, or when we had the TIF the following year, none of us were thinking about Wuhan or a global pandemic or had even heard of COVID.
But I think in many ways, the year that we have all lived through together has strengthened and validated the healthcare partnership between Greece and the United States. I’m especially proud of the role that American healthcare companies, American science and innovation companies, and American technology companies have played in helping to support the Greek government’s effective response to the COVID pandemic, and I know that President Biden and his administration are committed to deepening that cooperation.
We all owe a huge thanks of course to Albert Bourla, a proud son of Thessaloniki, who has worked so hard with all of his colleagues at Pfizer to bring the first effective vaccine to the global marketplace. And thanks to other American companies like Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, we now have a post-pandemic landscape that we can begin to envision, even as much work remains to be done to deal with the terrible consequences of these recent events.
And again, I want to applaud all of the AmCham pharma and healthcare companies that have been part of this response. I talk about Abbott all the time; their rapid tests have been a gamechanger for the Greek government. I also remember how impressed I was last summer when I was up in Thessaloniki and went to visit the AHEPA hospital and met with the senior epidemiologists there and heard about their work in support of Gilead’s clinical trials for Remdesivir as a COVID therapy and how committed they were to supporting Gilead’s global data-gathering efforts, working even through the Greek Easter, and also how proud they were that their results were contributing to the beginnings of a cure.
So this has been an area where we’ve already established a strong record of cooperation. In his first major speech to the American people recently, my new boss Secretary of State Blinken emphasized that stopping COVID and strengthening global health and security is the State Department’s number one priority. As the Secretary said, “We need governments, scientists, business, and communities around the world working together.”
I’ve also been very glad to continue this dialogue recently. Pascal and I were part of a conversation that AmCham hosted with Minister Kikilias and Minister Georgiadis to talk about how we continue the very strong cooperation that the AmCham medical technology and pharma communities have established with the Ministry of Health.
I was also very glad to be part recently of a virtual meeting with President Arkoumaneas at EODY and Dr. Tsiodras, and we talked about the commitment on both sides to building closer ties between the Greek Public Health Agency and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and I’m glad to say that’s already underway now with my colleagues at CDC who are working to deepen their partnership here with Greece.
We’re also working on the upstream knowledge side of this. I was glad to participate in a recent engagement between Minister Kerameus and Allan Goodman at the Institute for International Education to talk about how we can continue to strengthen the partnerships with our universities, and of course the Athens School of Medicine is very much a part of that.
And looking ahead, we are going to continue to build on the new U.S.-Greece Science and Technology Agreement that Minister Georgiadis participated in the signing of last September in Thessaloniki. So looking ahead, I see a couple of areas where the U.S. government and the U.S. Embassy can partner with the private sector in Greece to increase investment and cooperation in clinical trials.
First, we have to continue to support research and development to ensure that we have the drugs and the equipment to effectively treat COVID and the variants which are beginning to surface. And beyond COVID, it’s important that we continue to innovate so that we can tackle current and future health challenges. I think there are going to be a lot more young people who are going to look to the areas of public health and epidemiology to apply their talents.
American companies, of course, are world leaders in developing tools to combat chronic diseases and cancers. And this field, as we’ve seen with the response to COVID, is being rapidly transformed by new technologies, artificial intelligence, big data, genetic research, that are literally changing the tool kit that our medical professionals have before them.
I know that the Greek government and Minister Kikilias and the Health Ministry are continuing to work on expanding opportunities for companies to offset clawbacks with research and development investments like the significant Pfizer investment in Thessaloniki. This sends a very important signal to investors in the health and technology sectors that Greece welcomes innovation and R&D. But more needs to be done, we believe, to eliminate clawbacks and other barriers that impede innovative pharmaceutical and medical device companies from doing all that they possibly can to help Greece.
Continuing to reduce bureaucratic barriers to increase funding for research and innovation will translate into increases in GDP, increased tax income for the state, and we expect thousands of new, high-quality jobs. And in addition to the financial benefits of investment and reducing administrative barriers, there will be tangible benefits for the Greek people and institutions. U.S. companies come to Greece, they’re prepared to offer access to innovative treatments, as illustrated by the Pfizer and Moderna and J&J vaccines, and they want to offer ways for hospitals and treatment facilities to continue to improve their services.
We already know how important the contribution of U.S. pharma companies and healthcare companies is to the overall U.S. economy. There’s no reason why Greece can’t achieve the same. We see real possibilities for U.S. companies, through AmCham’s committees and our Strategic Dialogue, to be partners for Greece, helping to improve efficiencies in the public healthcare system.
We’re very excited that AmCham and the Ministry of Health are moving forward with an MOU to grow their partnership and ensure sustainable, long-term healthcare financing, and leveraging our new Science and Technology Agreement to build opportunities for our researchers.
You in Greece have a great partner in the Biden Administration. We’re committed to restoring U.S. leadership on global health and health security, we’re doubling down on our investments in science and technology, including in research and development, and we’re going to stand by Greece as we together get through this unprecedented challenge of the global pandemic.
I’m very excited about this conference, I want to again congratulate Simos and Kostas, both of you and your institutions for putting this together, and I look forward to continuing our efforts in the months and years ahead. Thank you.