USJC Explores the Present and Future of Healthcare

On August 4, the U.S.-Japan Council hosted a webinar about the current health crisis and the future of healthcare, titled “Coronavirus: Opportunity for a New Health Paradigm.” As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, governments and healthcare institutions globally have been left to reflect on their preparatory measures to educate and protect their citizens. This webinar addressed both current initiatives being undertaken to develop vaccines, as well as advanced therapeutic measures meant to reduce mortality rates once infected. The speakers also presented their views of what a new health paradigm would look like – and how it is arising.

Both panelists are prominent voices in their respective fields. Dr. William Hait is the Global Head at Johnson & Johnson External Innovation and was previously the head of The Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, with decades of experience in oncological research and the creation of transformational medical innovation. Dr. Hardy Kagimoto is the Chairman & CEO of Healios K.K. and his work in regenerative and cellular medicine has helped break new ground in the realm of biotechnology. The conversation was moderated by Council Leader Dr. Jeanette Takamura, Professor and Dean Emerita of the Columbia University School of Social Work.

After brief introductory remarks, the bulk of the conversation was guided by questions from the audience. The primary topic of conversation was centered around the influence of COVID-19 on the healthcare industry and the ongoing efforts to generate preventative and therapeutic treatments to reduce the effects of the disease on society. Dr. Kagimoto spoke briefly about how Healios’ prior work with designating treatments for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) had better prepared the company to shift focus into research on ARDS for COVID-19 patients, commenting that “ARDS is now the leading cause of death for those suffering from COVID-19.” Dr. Hait also described optimism at the progress being made on the vaccine front. “It’s remarkable that literally less than six months after the viral sequence was known, several companies are already in the clinic, including our own,” Dr. Hait reflected. “We’re manufacturing enough vaccine so that if our first trial, which started two weeks ago, looks promising, we will have on hand in 2021 one billion doses ready to go.”

Dr. Hait and Dr. Kagimoto also weighed in on the vastly different case and death counts in Japan and the United States. Dr. Kagimoto attributed the low case counts and deaths by COVID-19 to Japan’s oft-cited ‘collectivist mentality,’ but also highlighted the gaps in healthcare that have become apparent as a result of the pandemic. “The [Japanese] society tends to unite and then basically comply with whatever we have to do, but at the same time, wherever you know could be COVID-19-impacted, it’s certainly shed light into the weakest sectors of society,” Dr. Kagimoto said. “In Japan, the issue is that there are certain industries there where they could not stop working… They have no other option to work, and then as a result, that became the cause of the spike infection cluster information.”

Dr. Hait also contributed his thoughts to what he termed as the trade off between freedom, innovation, and health. “The home of the free and the land of the brave thing…[has] been a good thing in many respects for innovation, for creativity, for curiosity-driven research. But it doesn’t work well in a situation like this where people don’t want to be told what to do. And so if you tell them to wear a mask and stay six feet away from people, by reflex, they won’t do it… It’s turning out to be a huge issue in trying to control the virus in the U.S., where people are relatively uncontrollable [with being told what to do].”

Lastly, both speakers reflected on the various changes already taking place in society as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Kagimoto described the pandemic as “the wake-up call” for the healthcare industry, and an opportune time to “…sit down and think through how we want to design society”. Dr. Hait added to this notion by expressing how he believes that “COVID-19 has done something that no theoretical physicist thought was possible [and] somehow or another accelerated time.” In particular, Dr. Hait focused on the rise of telemedicine, citing how e-doctor’s visits had risen from a pre-pandemic rate of 0.1% to a current rate of 50% in half a year. He also expressed optimism that this rise in telemedicine could also help bridge the gaps in the fragmented U.S. healthcare system.

Click here or on the images above to view this webinar. 

We would like to thank our platinum sponsor fabbit, as well as our title sponsors the Central Pacific Bank Foundation, Hitachi, Ltd., ITO EN (North America) Inc., MUFG Union Bank, N.A., the Terasaki Nibei Foundation, and Toyota Research Institute for supporting the U.S.-Japan Council’s activities in 2020.