Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme interviews Dr. William A. Haseltine, President ACCESS Health International.

In this interview William Haseltine talks of:

-How Covid-19 has changed science

-How high levels of scientific collaboration and knowledge sharing were sparked in this crisis and a precedent set in which it has become institutionalised within the “virus science” community

-The pioneering science that created solutions for a global pandemic

-What we can learn from unprecedented collaboration

-How this collaboration could be used as a blueprint for future moonshots, not limited to science

-The critical role of socio-political systems to tackle the current pandemic and future co-operation

-How the drug companies that have profited from the pandemic could step up to help poor/pressured countries

-Science as a superpower

– William Haseltine’s latest book, published this week

-The potential of collaboration looking to the future

How has Covid-19 changed science?

Dr William Haseltine’s biography:

In Dr. Haseltine’s career at the forefront of medical research and application, he has educated a generation of doctors at Harvard Medical School, designed the strategy to develop the first treatment for HIV/AIDS, is well known for his groundbreaking work on cancer, and led the team that pioneered the development of new drugs based on information from the human genome. His relentless focus on delivering world-changing results led TIME magazine to name him one of the “25 Most Influential Global Business Executives.” Today, as the Chair and President of ACCESS Health International and an internationally recognized expert on the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Haseltine is dedicated to ensuring that quantum advancements in medical technology translate to improved health outcomes around the world. Dr. Haseltine has founded more than a dozen biotechnology companies, including Human Genome Sciences, Inc. Eight pharmaceutical products from companies he founded are currently approved by U.S. and international regulatory agencies. He is the author of more than two hundred peer reviewed manuscripts and eleven books, including two books on COVID: A Family Guide to Covid and A Covid Back to School Guide. His autobiography, My Lifelong Fight Against Disease: From Polio and AIDS to COVID-19, was published in October 2020. He is currently chair and president of the global health think tank ACCESS Health International.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:00:00] Who are you? What do we need to know?

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:00:04] My name is William Haseltine. I’m a scientist. I was trained by four Nobel Prize winning scientists in the field of biomedicine. I’ve had a career dedicated, primarily to helping people stay healthy to avoid disease. I did that first by doing fundamental research on cancer, then HIV AIDS came along.

Dr.William Haseltine. Credit: Dr. William Haseltine.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:00:30] This great pandemic, so far has killed about 34 million people and still kills about a million a year. The problem is in hand, but not yet solved. And then I went on to found a number of biotech companies that brought seven different drugs for different diseases to the market. So I’ve taken all the way from discovering new techniques to find drugs all the way to drug approval. And for the last 15 or more years, I’ve been working on health policy. But the thread that unites all of that is trying to understand how to keep people healthy. What can we do as scientists, as citizens to help everybody in the world enjoy the best of health?

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:01:19] You recently wrote, in fact, you’re a prolific writer. You’ve written 11 books. You write regularly for Forbes and you’ve recently written an article for Scientific American, the subject of which was how covid-19 has changed science. Could you talk to us about that, please?

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:01:43] Well, thank you for mentioning my books. It’s a lot of fun for me to help communicate ideas about science and health to people, not only in the USA, but around the world. But in one respect, Covid has been a great gift to the scientific world because it’s allowed us to do something we’d always wanted to do, which is seamless communication. The idea that people have about scientists is that we’re beavering away in secret in our labs. Well, that’s true, but it’s true only for a very short time, because in the past, the way you got credit for what you did is letting everybody else know you did it first. If you do a second, it doesn’t count. So you do it secretly and then you let everybody know right away. And that gives the idea that things are secret. But it’s not really science is a cooperative enterprise. What Covid has done is enormously enhanced the cooperativeness of science. I will just give you a couple of examples. One of them is publication. It used to be you submit a paper to a journal and you were obligated, if they were to publish it, to keep it totally quiet until they published it anywhere from three to nine months later. That’s a long gap. Covid has now allowed us to publish our research instantly. The moment we’ve got the result, we can post the paper before it is reviewed. Eventually, it does get into the journal, but that’s a big change. Let me give you how big a change when the Chinese lab first determines the sequence of the Covid virus. It was a week before that was widely known around the world, and over a weekend, that information was used to make what turns out to be the Moderna vaccine by scientists in the United States.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:03:27] Well, that wouldn’t have happened without instant communication, and that’s happening all the time. Another good example is something I’m part of as an honorary member and pleased to be part of it called MassCPR. I was a professor at Harvard for 20 years. And I can tell you it’s a very insular community, or has been, where Harvard doesn’t really speak to Tufts, doesn’t speak to North-Eastern, doesn’t speak to the University of Massachusetts, et cetera. This event has coalesced an entire community into something called MassCPR. It’s organized by some of my former students, I’m happy to say. And what’s really great about that is the entire community works together. And every other week we have a meeting where six scientists present in five minutes each their latest research, which unpublished. And it’s fostered enormous collaboration. That’s something that we can take into the future. We can take both a rapid publication, and it hasn’t diminished reputation. People are still known for their outstanding work. It’s just that other people get to stand on their shoulders and see farther, quicker. And it’s created institutions, not just cooperation within a place like Boston, but around the world. Cooperation which I’ve never seen before, which means science can proceed much more rapidly. That’s a gift to humanity that I think it will keep on giving.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:05:05] And we go back to the scientific challenges before we go on to talk more about how important cooperation collaboration has been during the process of tackling this terrible disease. Can you talk to us about the importance of mRNA and the other technologies and discoveries that have become absolutely critical to creating vaccines to tackle SARS‑CoV‑2?

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:05:38] Well, vaccines are one of our older technologies, actually, where you trace it all the way back, it goes way back to China about fourteen hundred years ago, where people would take the scabs of smallpox and grind it up, which was then used in the Middle East. And of course, we know that was one of the first vaccines where the name comes from vacca “cow,”(cow pox) vaccine for smallpox. And we know the stories of Edward Jenner (considered the founder of vaccinology) , but it’s been a continual upward progress. After that, people have learned to attenuate viruses to make the weaker. Yellow fever during the Spanish American War, at least that’s what we call it, the Spanish, American War or some may call it something else. But that was a huge step forward. In my own life — Polio vaccines. I knew Jonas Salk. I actually got to work in the lab, actually had the space where Sabin isolated the polio virus. That was a huge advance — that was taking the virus growing up and killing it. Those are all techniques that work, and then I’ve been witness and helped participate in the revolution to use purified proteins, recombinant DNA technology, actually my first company was creating a cat vaccine to a retrovirus. And it’s used very similar to some of the techniques that are using today. That was in nineteen eighty three/eighty four. The techniques used were very similar to the techniques that are used to make some of the vaccines today.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:06:57] We in fact invented what’s called the adjuvant. An active agent is used and then you stimulate the immune system by putting something into you that irritates you. That’s why vaccines get into your arm. That’s positive. You want your body to say, hey, something’s here that shouldn’t be here, let me recognize it as foreign. That’s the adjuvant. So we did a peptide, we did a adjuvant. And it’s still used for protecting cats from viruses. So what is the mRNA and how does that fit into it? Well, it was recognized that you might be able to do things a lot faster if you could just simply chemically synthesize your vaccine active entity if you do it really quickly in a day or two and then begin to test the vaccine right away. And you can respond to changes in the virus very quickly. And a number of groups, including the Gates Foundation, put a lot of effort behind that. The NIH put a lot of its efforts back by that. And when Covid came along, that’s exactly what they did. This was about maybe the seventh or eighth time they tried to make a vaccine that worked. It turns out it was a right technology for the right virus. It turns out that the outside of the viruses is most important to be recognized by the immune system, just like to fold up all by itself.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:08:11] You don’t have to do anything. It’s like magic is like you wanted to make an origami phoenix and you looked at the paper and it folded up and there you had what you wanted. This thing loves to form in the right structure, without some existing bonds. You don’t have to worry about that. And that means when you make the protein from the messenger RNA, which Moderna and Pfizer have done and now a couple of other companies are doing, you put it into the body as messenger RNA in a little liquid package. It gets into the cells, the protein gets made and the immune system sees it. And it’s great. It’s like one of the best vaccines we’ve ever seen in terms of ninety five percent effectiveness. And pretty high titers. It may not last forever, but it’s the best thing we’ve got right now. And it’s been fast, really fast. It also helped because the entire government got behind it and used the processes, the whole machinery set up to respond to bioterror, to respond to this by allowing very rapid development to take place. We had greased those skids following the anthrax attacks and other concerns over bioterrorism, and we use them to great effect. And the mRNA technology has been good for that. How well it’s going to be for other diseases remains to be seen.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:09:26] And Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca use a vector technology. Could you talk a little about that technology please?

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:09:34] Right. Well, a whole other way to do vaccines is to introduce them into cells with the virus. Viruses naturally get into your cells, so you create a virus and it only has a chance to go in once and can’t spread around. And that’s the adenovirus technology. It’s widely used for gene therapy to get viruses into our nervous tissue. There’s a great new experiment that we’ve just done to put a new photoreceptor into somebody who’s photoreceptors have blinded him, [00:09:59] 40 years later that man could see some things. He [00:10:06] hadn’t been able to see for forty years. That’s the adenovirus driving a gene into a useful cell. Well, the adenovirus can drive genes that can make the proteins of the virus into the appropriate cells. And it does so. And when it does it, it makes the body recognizes it is foreign, makes it immune reaction. Sputnik, the Russian vaccine uses that. The J&J vaccine uses the antivirus and so does the AstraZeneca. It turns out it’s not as effective as the mRNA technologies. For some reason, you don’t make the same high level of antibodies. And that’s a problem when you come to treating, or trying to prevent some of the variants. For example, the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is better than that of the virus for seeing these variants. That’s just because it makes it more of the antibodies, probably. But they are good technologies.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:11:08] Can you take us through, please, the chronology of how collaboration has worked in this case? For example, a precedent was set by the researchers in China, then another researcher in Australia shared the findings on Twitter and so on. And we then arrived at a system that institutions have adopted. So it was really driven by humanness, a motivation for the greater good.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:11:55] That’s true. I think the timeline for the development of not just the RNA vaccines, all of the generations of vaccines has been extraordinary. And no matter where you look, it’s been much more rapid than for any other vaccine in history. And let’s just take you through the what you described as the Moderna, the vaccine. The Chinese group isolated the virus, determined its nucleic acid sequence, sent that to researchers in Australia, which then made it public. And within days, literally days, that message RNA vaccines were initiated. At first they were constructed. The same thing happened with the adenoviruses. All you need is a sequence. You know, I realised that was one of the first people, in fact, probably the first group to sequence the AIDS virus. And I realised that once you have the sequence of the virus, you don’t need to know much else to get drugs and vaccines going. That’s the power of genomics. You can see deeply into the workings of a micro-organism, or even a human. So I took that and actually helped create human genome sciences where I thought if we could do it for the few genes of HIV, we could do it for all the genes. And in fact, it turned out to work as a basis of much of modern medicine. So you get the genome sequence and you can use it as a drug target or you can use it to make new vaccines. And you think pieces of that, those genes, you put them into adenoviruses, that you make messenger RNA’s or use older techniques and you grow up the virus and kill it, all of that is going on.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:13:28] Or, you take a piece of the virus and you make a protein and that’s a vaccine candidate. All of that happened. But it happened really fast because the Chinese recognized the nature of the disease, shared the information of the sequence that was widely disseminated. And it also happened because we were primed to respond. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, the two previous Coronavirus lethal infections gave us all the tools we needed because there was a whole group of scientists that already tried adenoviruses vectors against MERS and SARS. They’d already tried protein vectors, had already tried to kill the vaccines. They hadn’t tried the mRNA, but they were certainly primed. They tried Ebola. So we had a whole community just ready to jump. In addition, in the United States, we had the whole legal process worked out to make sure this thing went through like greased lightning. And that was a process we put in place in 2001,2 and 3 and called Bioshield- BARDA to allow us to do rapid response with vaccines and drugs for new diseases. And I helped craft that language with the National Institutes of Health, where the language we put in was first is going to be bioterror threats. So we said, no, no, we have to make sure it’s both manmade and natural origin, new biological threats of manmade and natural origin. And by putting natural origin, we had all the legal authority to move forward lickety split. And that’s what happened and we were using it. So we were institutionally prepared. We were scientifically prepared. And it took that spark of having the information from China that let us get going quickly.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:15:12] Can you go into a little more detail about the scientific collaboration involved in reaching all of these solutions and the need for that continued collaboration and then also talk to us about the wider potential of, I guess, a system of collaboration which is being set up?

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:15:40] The pandemic is not done with us. As the rates of infection come down to Europe and the United States, they’re rising sharply in South America, in Africa. And we’ve just seen an enormous human tragedy in India, which is now spreading to Southeast Asia. And even countries which had contained the pandemic by public health measures alone are subject to continual assaults. And as I speak there, several cities shut down throughout Asia, Melbourne, the state of Victoria, the whole of Taiwan and about one hundred million people plus in southern China are under restrictions because the virus is back in. And what’s happening is the virus is evolving to become more and more transmissible. We’ve seen it go stepwise, let’s say a rate of transmissibility of one to two to four, now six and possibly now eight. That means a little bit of virus you’ve got infected. And instead of infecting just one person, it didn’t affect many more people. And so we’ve seen countries like Brazil has had one terrible epidemic where most people got infected in certain parts get reinfected the same thing in India. So this is not over.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:17:08] We need every bit of knowledge and cooperation. So you asked me for some specific details. You know, when you look at how these viruses are becoming more and more transmissible, there is a group of people that I am in real touch with. I would say through the literature on a daily basis, daily basis. I start off every morning and every evening looking at the literature and their jewels and gems every single day. Let me just give you an example of one. This virus is sneaky. It gets in and acquires your immune system for long enough to get out. That’s its basic trick. You don’t feel sick when you get infected with the virus. It’s not the virus that makes you feel sick. It’s your immune reaction to the virus, just like a vaccine. That’s why we got the vaccine. Some people feel like they’ve got the flu. It’s the same thing. So this virus can shut down the immune system long enough for it to get out again and then you start feeling sick. But how is it doing all that and what’s it doing? Well, a lot of collaboration between people working on cancer and cancer biology. People working in virology have figured out that maybe it’s shutting down interferons, but maybe if we stimulated something happens a little later down the pathway, we’ll be able to short circuit with the virus, trying to prepare us and prevent the virus from getting a foothold.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:18:31] That’s a good idea. Well, people have thought of that for cancer. So can we get that to rev up the immune system a little bit better? And so a drug that was being used for cancer and publish for that people that, oh, let’s try it to see if we can prevent these viruses from killing mice. And sure enough, it works. I just did a little Forbes piece on that. But that’s one kind of example of how different kinds of fields come together, deep, deep knowledge of what this virus is really doing and how it’s doing it, turning off interferons, understanding the details of that pathway, understanding what is the potential target based on 30 years of research on what’s called innate immunity and then understanding that there might be a drug from a different field that could be used for that. I mean, that’s thrilling, that’s exciting. It’s like watching the best movie every day with a really surprising and often happy ending.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:19:54] Well, I think as you’ve lowballed it, I think the cost is going to be people now are saying 50 billion and maybe 100 billion. It really doesn’t matter. That’s small potatoes compared to the trillions, tens and even higher trillions of dollars in lost productivity and human suffering and in lost lives. So that is a very small price to pay for the world. Now, I mentioned that even if you protected your own country, you’re still at risk. Let’s just do a little math. Suppose you have the very best vaccine. Ninety five percent of people protected. If you have 300 million people like you have in the United States, that’s hundreds of thousands of people who are not protected even by the best vaccines. You want to protect those and you want to protect the children, which are not now protected by vaccines. And even then, as vaccine wanes, more people are going to be susceptible and they’re going to be viruses that come in that are that basically evolve to get around our vaccines like flu does. This really looks a lot like flu. Maybe it’ll be tamer than flu. It looks worse right now.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:21:05] So you’ve got to have the whole world vaccinated. And is it giving them vaccines? Surely, if you can. Right now, there’s a problem, there’s a shortage of vaccines in many countries. We’re just getting over that shortage in the United States to a place where we can ship out our best vaccines. But I actually have a different take on that and something I’ve been working with groups in the development banks and the World Bank and IFC to get it moved along, which is creating the capacity to make these new generation vaccines in South America, in Africa, in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia. And it’s beginning to happen, but it’s happening far too slowly. We need something called Special Drawing Rights, which allow people to draw down additional funds in emergency from the IMF. And we need the development banks to put up big funds to create the high quality manufacturing facilities for this and for many other diseases. It’s something we as a world need to do, not just provide vaccines to provide the capacity and the training so that countries can make their own vaccines or continents can make their own vaccines for their own people.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:22:22] The commercial organizations Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer and Madonna have reported huge vaccine revenues in the first quarter of this year. What do you think they could directly do in alleviating this situation?

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:22:41] Well, first of all, they can donate vaccines. That’s an obvious one. But, you know, there’s a big discussion over patent waivers. And I’ve looked at that question and I’ve actually worked on that question for a long time. And I have a slightly different take from many people. You know, right now it’s take hepatitis C. I wrote an article on how Egypt has wiped out hepatitis C by testing the entire country. For hepatitis C and making drug treatment free and the reason they were able to do that is they were able to get the hepatitis C drugs, which cost US$80,000 to cure somebody in the U.S. for $45 dollars. That’s not because the patents were waived, because under the TRIPS agreement, there is an exception that if you really need the drug for a national or a national disaster, you can make and use the drug for that purpose. So that exists. And also, we went through this for HIV for a long time. It was a big push. It was heavy lifting. There was kicking and screaming by a lot of the pharmaceutical companies. But eventually it was agreed that there would be a tiered pricing strategy in countries that have afforded you put in enough money so that the companies can give you even more drugs in the future. But in countries that are middle income, low income are really at the bottom.

Dr. William Haseltine. Credit: Dr. William Haseltine

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:23:58] You make a sliding scale and it isn’t. Waiving the patents it is making an agreement. In a middle income country will sell an US$80,000 drug for US$3,000. In a low income country we’ll sell it for a US$1,000 and if really poor will, the TRIPS will kick in and they can have it for whatever it costs to make it. Those are the kinds of systems that are already in place. Patents are enshrined for a very good reason in the US Constitution. Benjamin Franklin, I think, summed it up best when he said: A patent is the fuel of self-interest to the fire of invention.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:24:42] I think that really summarizes it. People are motivated by money, that’s a reality. People work harder for money and if there’s a lot of money, they’ll work even harder. You want that. But at the same time, I run a foundation called ACCESS Health International. Our motto is, let’s provide high quality, affordable care, accessible, affordable care to everybody in the world. That means in a lot of parts of the world, drugs are priced at very low price that might be priced more expensively in other areas. We can do it. We should do it. We don’t have to destroy the incentives of patents to do that.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:25:18] What do you think can be done at a political level that is not currently being done? Maybe you could point some fingers, if you would like to do so?

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:25:27] Very good question. But I would say the biggest disappointment in the whole Covid pandemic has been the socio-political responses in different countries. At the very beginning, China proved something that socio political action alone can contain this pandemic. They did it. Other countries did not learn from that. They call them totalitarian they called them all sorts of names. A few countries did, Australia did, New Zealand did, Singapore did Taiwan did. They actually control it before we had vaccines. But that didn’t happen in almost all the world. It certainly didn’t happen in the USA. And that was a massive failure of government and the people in the country, because governments reflect what people think in the country. They don’t actually lead so much as they take the direction from the people that are in their country. They do some leadership, but if the masses of the country doesn’t want to do something, no leader can take them down that path. You just look at Biden trying to do things that Trump didn’t want to do. He can’t do them either because of who we are. And so that’s been my major disappointment that we as a collective body of human beings are not as responsible as we should be for one another, and that doesn’t allow our governments to be as responsible for us as they might otherwise be. That’s some other issues, a structural issue, states’ rights versus federal rights. But those are parochial issues for country by country. But in general, you can look at the entire continent of Europe. You can look at all of North and South America. And you can look at most all of Africa and most of Asia, with some exceptions, the big exception being China, and see that socio political solutions were not implemented as they could have been. And I’m not sure that any leader could have done that in these other countries. But some of the leaders were worse than others.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:27:47] It would be really interesting to hear if you were given the opportunity to, let’s say, sort out three things at the moment, what would you do, whether it is political, scientific, just to get things done? You mentioned earlier that you have this organization, philanthropic organization called ACCESS Health International, that deals with health at a macro level. What would you do?

Dr. William Haseltine. Credit: Dr. William Haseltine.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:28:18] Well, the first thing, being a scientist, naturally, I think I keep up funding and expand funding for the detection, treatment and prevention of a whole range of infectious diseases. We do a good job, but we could do a better job and we should do it in concert with other countries around the world. That’s the first thing. And this current demonization of China is exactly the wrong way to go. You know, we don’t know what happened in China. We may never know what happened in China. But what I do know is the blame China movement is destroying vital aspects of cooperation. One fifth of humanity that we’re essentially going to cut ourselves off from. They’re going to get really angry. I know they’re getting angry and we’re getting suspicious and it’s all over Nothing. And it’s not going to help us control the pandemic to know that it was or wasn’t a cave or this or that. Just remember, MERS came from a cave in Africa. This is a worldwide problem, you know. One thing people don’t realize is they’re probably more bats to human beings on this planet and they harbor all sorts of viruses. So we have to work as a world. So that’s the first thing I do. Second thing, I would change the way we handle public health in general. Public health for pandemics has to be done nationally and internationally on a cooperative basis. You can see how Covid is sort of popped and hopscotched around the United States.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:29:50] Oh, this area is doing well. We’ve got an uncontrolled “pop!”. It’s over here, “pop!”, it’s over there. There’s no uniform policy. You can see the benefit in a country like Australia of a uniform policy. It’s a big country. It’s got people or at least as independent minded as we are right now. In many ways, Australians are quite like our Texans — not afraid of speaking their minds or standing up for their rights. Yet they cooperated. Why haven’t we in the USA? Why haven’t probably the most similar people, to the Australians — the Texans, behaved like Australians? It is a really curious thing. I would secondly work on strengthening our entire public health systems, both within country and very good, well-supported, well financed global efforts. And finally, there’s a whole process that we in the West have been really adverse to. It is called testing, contact tracing and isolation. That’s what controls pandemic’s at the very beginning. If you do that right, you don’t suffer. Look at the countries that did it, you can count the number of people have died in the last year on your hands. Not by the tens and hundreds of thousands, but on your hands and maybe had a few toes, that’s it. That’s what we can do, but we didn’t do it. So now we’re counting dead in the millions, not on two hands and a few toes. That is an enormous difference, so I think that’s the kind of thing we have to focus on.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:31:31] The focus of this interview is the how Covid-19 has changed science and that this is this hopeful. It’s hopeful for science in general, but it’s also hopeful for other aspects of human existence, businesses, institutions, entities, how we work together as human beings. Can you take us through how this type of collaboration could help with addressing world challenges?

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:32:05] Well, first thing to say is if you’re a biologist, you look at evolution. Why are we so successful as a species? And the current sort of anthropological paleo anthropological explanation is we learned how to cooperate in hunting, in living and, you know, when I look outside my window and I see a bird, I think, how can that bird live through the winter in New England? It does, but it doesn’t have a house. It doesn’t it have electricity? How can it find its food? Well, cooperation is the essence of humanity. Why we are what we are and how we live. And to the extent that we cooperate peacefully and productively, we do even better. And that’s in any realm. One thing that is great about science is you have a conversation with history. It’s a common language that goes deep, deep, deep, maybe 10,000 years, deep. You are having conversations with minds, who are figuring things out 10,000 years ago. And there is relevant today because what they discovered hasn’t changed. There’s all these things and it continues. And the great thing today about the modern world is it is exploding everywhere. It’s just accelerating. The kinds of things that took 20 years, could take two months, can even take two days to move forward. So, it’s ever more important in any field whether, let’s say battery storage so we can move to a carbon neutral economy, well, that’s exploding all over the place. Look at a Victorian factory.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:33:53] The cog wheels are bigger than a room. Now they’re tiny little things, right? So we’re learning how to use the natural world to architect things at the atomic scale, which is going to make our footprint much lighter in this world. We’re learning how to make artificial meat that is going to taste like meat. I recently had some hamburgers, which I can say I enjoy, which weren’t ever grown on a farm. They were grown on a farm, but not through an animal. So those are the kinds of things that we can move toward. And what this experience and Covid has taught us is we’re not losing by opening up and communicating more rapidly. We’re gaining. Yes, there are heroes. We now recognize that obscure woman who figured out mRNA. We recognise that scientist who first put those genes into the Moderna vector.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:34:49] I’m writing a book called Science as a Superpower. It’s sort of an adaptation of my autobiography, but it’s different. It goes through not just my life, but people who’ve made a difference. The men and women who made great discoveries. And why I call it a superpower is one person can save the entire world. Look at that, Chinese scientists who sequenced the virus and made it public. Look at the woman who took that sequence and put it into the Moderna vaccine. Well, those are scientists and they’re saving the entire world. Dr. Jonas Salk, who changed my life, so I could go to the swimming pool and when I lived in the desert in the middle of the summer — before I couldn’t, that’s a big difference.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:35:36] One mind in science can change the world. And I think Covid has given the whole world, a new respect for science. You know, a lot of young people were headed, especially the brightest were headed toward financial markets, men and women both. I think that is changing somewhat. That people see the value in what they can contribute. The sum total of human knowledge to make our life better in whatever area and what I show in my book about my own life, it doesn’t mean you have to slave away in a laboratory for all of your life. You can create companies, you can hobnob with the rich and famous. You can travel the world. You can help influence world leaders to do things better for their people. You can use your passport of knowledge in many, many different ways. And I think the Covid is changing our global appreciation of the value of scientific inquiry and its values.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:36:48] Let me take something else. One of the biggest debates that’s going around is what’s a fact? Right, are we have we were sort of translating into what appeared to be. A reality, that was untethered to fact. Well Covid tells you that you can’t argue with nature. Nature is what it is. It’s like arguing with a volcano. Am I going to get into a fight with a volcano? Am I going to get in a fight with an earthquake and tsunami?

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:37:18] It’s the same thing as trying to say Covid doesn’t exist and it’s not going to kill you. It’s going to do what it does. It’s a force of nature. We have to realize that there are forces that affect our life, which humans can control but can’t really change their fundamental nature. They’re there. We live in nature. And our best tool for making that life as pleasant as possible is science and technology. To understand what’s happening around us, to prepare for what’s coming and deal with what is not what we want to be. A lot of these fact free discussions of Covid are based on hope. They’re based on desire. They’re not based on reality. Albert Camus wrote a book called The Plague. And in that book he said: In times of plague, those who define the world in terms of human values are the enemy because they will miss the implacable enemy they face and will underestimate the force of what’s bearing down upon them.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:38:27] And I think this has changed our relationship in a fundamental way to understanding that we live in a precarious world and precarious in a way that can affect us, not them. It can kill your child. It can destroy your job. And I think that’s a lesson that everybody should have and the solution to that, if you’re a young person who wants to be make a difference in the world, is to become a scientist. It’s a great career and something that I recommend. And now it’s even a better career because there’s many more people to communicate with.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:39:00] We’ve spoken a great deal about the importance of generosity and human collaboration in pushing science forward. I’d be really interested to hear on the personal level, who has connected with you, collaborated with you richly in order to move your human story and your scientific endeavours forward.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:39:24] Well, let me begin by saying that scientists are human and we’re as competitive as any top athlete. OK, we’re competitive, but is a kind of cooperative competition where you’re on a football team and for you to do well, do you have to have your other teammates do well, too. So it’s a coopetition. I think it is the right word. I don’t want to say we’re all altruistic. We’re not, we’re all competitive like every other human being. But within that, you can compete toward a greater good. The triumph of your team in this case, humanity is your team. And that’s what you’re all trying to do. And I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have mentors who have taught me some of the values of cooperation. One of my very first mentors was an undergraduate. He was looking for bright kids and he picked me out of a class of three thousand, along with 15 others. And we spent the summer meeting Nobel Prize winners. And what does that teach you? It teaches you each one’s very different, but they have a common goal. They’re able to identify a really important problem that can be solved with the technologies that exist. That’s a gift to know what the problem is and to know that it could be solved. James D Watson, as a young man, understood the technologies exist to solve a question everybody always asked, how is inherited? How does like beget like? Why did my kids have blue eyes? Why might they get this disease? Why am I tall or short? Nobody has the answer. But he understood the question and the technology. Melvin Calvin was interested in how sunlight makes the tree. When I showed my grandchildren a leaf or a tree, I said, this came from the air. You think there’s something in that air, feel how solid this tree is, you can’t move it all that stuff with a little bit of exception came from the roots, 90 percent of it came from the air.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:41:26] Well, how did that happen? He figured it out. OK, when you have that kind of person helping you along your route, you have like a golden world that opens up to you. And what you realize is there is people all over the world that are interested in what you’re interested in and are willing to help you, even if we compete sometimes, ultimately we help each other. You know, when I was at my most competitive, I sat down and wrote a book to help other people understand what the AIDS virus was. And when I did that, I came to realize that the people I saw as my most fierce competitors were really serious, good hearted minds trying to solve the same problem. Yeah, they might try to beat me, but they were doing something that was really valuable. And I understood when I read not just one of their papers, their whole trail of research, how they got to where they got. And that was really important for me to understand that no matter how competitive you might be, pay attention to everybody and I would say even the honor of their intellectual integrity. Understand that they are trying to solve the same problems you are, even if they’re trying to beat you. And in the end, it’s a cooperative enterprise. I think that is one of the most valuable things that I saw. And by the way, each of those Nobel Prize scientists were as competitive as an Olympic champion. They really wanted to win, but they wanted to solve important problems and help others follow and train generations of people to follow in their footsteps.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:43:07] Dr. William Haseltine, thank you very much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure and thank you for moving the human story forward.

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:43:17] You’re welcome. Thank you very much.

Links Dr. William A. Haseltine:

If you enjoyed this interview check out our recent interview with Tom Lawry, National Director for Artificial Intelligence, Health and Life Sciences at Microsoft.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme.

Find ideaXme across the internet including on iTunes, SoundCloud, Radio Public, TuneIn Radio, I Heart Radio, YouTube, Vimeo, Google Podcasts, Spotify and more.

For all those who love big ideas and great stories. #movethehumanstoryforward #science #futurism #quantumai #technology #spaceexploration #climatechange

For all those who love big ideas and great stories. #movethehumanstoryforward #science #futurism #quantumai #technology #spaceexploration #climatechange