In this conversation, Tarek Rabah, President and CEO of Otsuka North America Pharmaceutical Business is interviewed for Mental Illness Awareness Week. A recent survey by Mental Health America states that about 19% of adults, which is more than 47 million Americans, are experiencing some form of a mental illness. Unfortunately, that number is growing and the devastating impact of untreated chronic mental illness is evidenced.
There is lacking quantitative understanding of the consequences of mental health, in both lives and in dollar terms, of the decades of health inequities resulting in poor access to mental healthcare specifically for minority populations. Between 2016 and 2020 at minimum, more than 116,000 lives and approximately $278 billion could have been saved by just investing in proper mental healthcare for minority populations.
To shift these devastating realities, requires a multifaceted commitment – Otsuka is leveraging advocacy programs, awareness campaigns, social impact and policy related initiatives to shine a light on mental health and make meaningful changes for those who suffer. They are working to convene bipartisan policymakers, thought leaders, and experts from across the mental health community, who can address societal shortcomings together.
The burden of mental health inequities is shouldered by all of us. No one entity can do it alone. This moment in time represents an opportunity to work in collaboration to create a more equitable future for all.
Listen or read the transcript below to learn more.
Zohaib Sheikh: Hi, I am Zohaib Sheikh, Head of Content at Fierce Life Sciences, and today I'm excited to be speaking with Tarek Rabah, President and CEO of Otsuka North America Pharmaceuticals. Tarek, it's great to speak with you at the start of Mental Illness Awareness Week. Before we begin, could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Otsuka?
Tarek Rabah: Thank you, Zohaib, for speaking with me, especially as we begin Mental Illness Awareness Week. As President and CEO of Otsuka North America Pharmaceuticals, I lead our organization efforts to introduce products, programs, policy and advocacy efforts on behalf of patients in need.
Zohaib Sheikh: The topic of mental health seems to be everywhere we turn today. Cultural references in the entertainment industry, elite pro athletes openly discussing their wellbeing, and of course across social media as a major focus of Gen Z conversation. What is your perspective and what is Otsuka doing to make a difference?
Tarek Rabah: Although conversation around mental illness has shifted in recent years and more people are comfortable talking about it, there is still a lot of work to be done. I want to underscore that mental illnesses are really chronic diseases, not acute or temporary conditions, and they should be resourced and treated as such. I'm going to mention here a survey, although I don't like to really speak about numbers as numbers because you want to make sure that every single person that has mental illness in a way, or has a mental disorder, is actually valued. But if you look at the most recent survey by Mental Health America, we know that about 19% of adults, that's one out of five adults, more than 47 million Americans are actually experiencing some sort of a mental illness. And unfortunately, that number is growing. And each day, we see the devastating impact of this untreated chronic mental illness all around us, in news headlines and our communities nationwide.
And this is affecting people, just you and me. Many are living on the streets with no hope and no access to the care they do desperately need. So at Otsuka, we are really proud to be at the forefront of research and development of new therapies. We have a strong pipeline and we are hopeful that this will be able to bring new treatments to patients to relieve them from these debilitating symptoms. And we are trying to make this impact greater than just the medicines we develop. And that's something we're very proud about. We do have a multifaceted commitment in this space; we are leveraging different advocacy programs, awareness campaigns, social impact and policy related initiatives, to shine a light on mental health and make meaningful changes for those who suffer from these conditions.
I have to mention, we'll probably come back to it later on, but this is not something we can do alone so we are fully open to collaborate with other companies and other stakeholders to make the changes that are necessary. And one thing really important as well is, as we work to bring treatments to those patients or those living with mental illnesses, it's critical to consider how to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion to our research programs and clinical trials. That's another thing we are very proud about, we supplemented our traditional brick and mortar clinical trial sites with more virtual decentralized trials, to enable participation from traditionally underrepresented populations. And we've done that through our collaboration with Verily to drive more inclusive, patient-centric research.
Zohaib Sheikh: You mentioned health inequities that exist in our communities. It's clear the issue is systemic and requires more than one entity to solve it, how do you propose we tackle this?
Tarek Rabah: At Otsuka we are really proud to be at the forefront of science, research, and development for new therapies. We continually affirm our commitment to the mental health area for the long-term, to serve patients suffering from these diseases. But of course, there is still much to be done and the first place to start is through gaining knowledge. When we uncovered the disparities and inequities that exist today, we can build better action plans to address them. Last year, for example, we sponsored a landmark report examining the cost of not investing in mental health care. It was published by a very well respected ... Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine.
Up to, really this point, we have lacked a clear quantitative understanding of the consequences, in lives and in dollar terms, of decades of health inequities resulting in this poor access to mental healthcare. Specifically for minority populations. And the researchers found out that, between 2016 and 2020, so remind you this is before Covid, at a minimum more than 116,000 lives and approximately $300 billion could have been saved by just investing in proper mental healthcare for minority population. We know that decades long absence of focus and needed resources for treating chronic mental illness did have a significant and negative impact on overall health outcomes in the US.
Zohaib Sheikh: Those findings are sobering. What can be done?
Tarek Rabah: Well, if there is a single truth to overcoming the mental health challenges that America faces, it is that no one entity alone can do it. And at Otsuka, we try to be bridge builders. We try to convene bipartisan policymakers, thought leaders, experts from across the mental health community, who can address those societal shortcomings with us. The real question is how bold we are willing to be to drive and sustain the systemic change that addresses issues, such as stigma, the lack of an effective crisis response team, or basic patient access to services and treatments. And of course, the overall lack of parity in treatment and resourcing for serious mental illnesses.
Zohaib Sheikh: So you're saying the government has a role to play too?
Tarek Rabah: Oh, absolutely. While explicit parity legislation has been enforced for over two decades, health equity is just now beginning to receive the attention it deserves. The Covid pandemic, in a way, shifted significant policymaker attention towards mental health, broadly, and also highlighted the need to address systemic health equity issues. And we are beginning to see this particular subject of health equity receive the attention it deserves. And as I mentioned earlier, untreated mental illnesses can be debilitating. There is evidence that if we leave mental illness untreated, this may lead to additional mental, emotional, and physical issues.
However, there are therapies and treatments to address these conditions. And currently we know that the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services is seeking to design and implement these policies and programs to support health for all people. And we are trying to be supportive for that. The burden of mental health inequities, again, is shouldered by all of us. We need, really, all hands on deck. No one entity can do it alone. The moment in time, this moment in time particularly, represent an incredible opportunity for us to work in a collaborative way to create a more equitable future for all of us.
Zohaib Sheikh: Thank you, Tarek, well put. Before we close, is there anything else you would like to share?
Tarek Rabah: Yeah, I would like to affirm Otsuka's commitment to neuropsychiatry and mental health in general. And also leading the industry shift toward a more patient-centric care. We're really trying to meet patients wherever they are and whenever they need, whether it is at the physician's office, at the urgent care clinic, at home or on the road. And most importantly, allow these patients to begin new treatments when they need to. I'm really excited by the potential of what the science is bringing us, what research and development is bringing us in terms of our pipeline, and how this may help communities that are living with mental illnesses.
I am also aware of the challenges many patients experience in terms of accessing treatments and we're doing our best to overcome that. And while the road to reform is complex and there are so many unknowns, we know one thing for sure. That investing in mental health actually saves lives. So we can only hope that others across the healthcare industry will join us in this collective commitment to offer renewed hope for those living with mental illnesses. And our ambition, as we say it, is to really see a world where every mind is valued.