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Healthcare Projects included in 50 Most Inspiring Projects of the Past 50 Years

To celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered membership organisation for the project profession, has announced a list of the 50 most inspiring projects from the past 50 years. Entitled ’50 Projects for a Better Future’, the list features iconic projects from the fields of healthcare, construction and engineering, technology, sports and arts, and science and nature. 

The list features healthcare projects which have had significant impact across the globe including HIV antiretroviral therapy, eradication of Polio, the UK HPV vaccination programme, the Human Genome Project, In vitro fertilisation (IVF), the UK Covid-19 vaccine rollout and the NHS Electronic Prescription Service.

More than 600 projects were nominated for inclusion by APM members, board members and industry experts. Projects were selected based on the transformative impact they have had on society, the economy and environment since their launch within the past 50 years.

Professor Adam Boddison, Chief Executive of APM, says: “To mark our 50th anniversary we wanted to celebrate and recognise the impact that projects have had on the world, and the important role that project professionals play in embracing change and opportunity. The 50 projects on this list all have their own legacy in the impact they have had on society, the economy and environment, as well as acting as a catalyst for other projects which followed and will follow them in the future.”

Healthcare projects as featured in APM’s ’50 Projects for a Better Future’:

HIV antiretroviral therapy 

 While COVID-19 has been the dominant public health concern of the 2020s, in the 1980s, it was the devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic that caught the world’s attention. HIV is a retrovirus, which means it is able to make copies of itself within the body. Treatment focuses on suppressing this ability of HIV to copy itself, reducing the viral load and thus keeping the immune system strong, preventing the onset of AIDS in HIV-positive patients. Antiretroviral treatments for HIV first emerged in the US in the mid 1990s, and from 1996 a combination therapy known as HAART became the new standard of care for HIV. Thanks to HAART, an estimated 16.5 million AIDS-related deaths have been averted since 2001. 

Dr Charles Flexner, Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, and International Health Chief Scientific Officer, Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Johns Hopkins University says: “The discovery and clinical development of safe and effective antiretroviral drugs for the treatment and prevention of HIV infection is one of the great achievements of modern public health. This landmark would not have been possible without the input of hundreds if not thousands of project managers and their colleagues over the past three decades.”


UK Covid-19 vaccine rollout 

As of April 2022, almost 80% of the UK population have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine – almost 53 million people. Few projects touch so many lives in such a short space of time, but the UK’s vaccine rollout is no normal project. The Vaccine Taskforce was set up in April 2020 to secure access to promising Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as possible and strengthen the country’s capability in vaccine development and manufacturing. It is a multi-departmental entity – a mix of civil servants, industry experts and contractors to ensure deep cross-sector expertise in vaccine development, regulation, manufacturing and project management. A higher-stakes project within a more pressurised context is difficult to imagine, but the taskforce was praised for the speed of its decision-making and focus on outcomes rather than process. 

Nick Elliott, former Director-General of the Vaccine Taskforce says:The development and deployment of vaccines in response to the covid-19 pandemic was a stunning scientific achievement.  It was also the one area in which the United Kingdom’s response was truly world leading.  The UK Vaccine Taskforce sat at the heart of this response, forging a path out of the pandemic, the success of which need only be measured in the countless lives it saved.”

In vitro fertilisation  (IVF)

 The birth of Louise Brown in 1978 was a watershed moment in medical history. Brown was the first baby born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF), an experimental treatment developed by British doctors Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe. IVF involves the removal of an egg from a woman’s ovaries for fertilisation in a laboratory. The embryo is then returned to the womb where it develops. Brown and Steptoe’s successful project to pioneer IVF was hard fought – they initially struggled for funding and faced public distrust and suspicion. Despite this, the doctors’ empathy for sufferers of infertility and passion for helping others drove them to great heights. As a result of their work, eight million babies worldwide have been born through IVF. 

Raj Mathur, Chair of the British Fertility Society says: “Human In-vitro Fertilisation is one of the most significant advances in health care of the last 50 years. It has transformed the lives of people who previously struggled to become parents, and has led to the birth of millions of children across the world. It has affected not just the people who benefit from it, but society as a whole, influencing demography, economics and people’s attitudes to reproduction and fertility. The effective combination of basic science and clinical research led to the success of IVF, and this has become the key to unlocking our scienitfic understanding of how we humans are formed and develop in the very earliest stages of life. This knowledge is already helping to make IVF more successful and to extend its use beyond fertility, for instance to reduce the risk of genetic diseases in at-risk families. As we look to the future, we require the highest ethical and scientific standards to achieve its full potential for mankind.”

Human Genome Project 

Take three billion ‘letters’ and assemble them in the right order. That is a much-simplified description of the endeavour completed by global researchers between 1990 and 2003 known as the Human Genome Project. The project aimed to map the ‘base pairs’ – a type of code represented by the letters A, G, C and T – that make up human DNA. The huge collaboration between 20 universities completed its task two years ahead of schedule. The data generated by the project is publicly available for free, allowing scientists around the world to make use of it. Benefits include improved genetic testing and gene therapy treatments and a deeper understanding of human evolution. 


UK HPV vaccination programme 

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name given to a common group of sexually transmitted viruses. Introduced in 2008 for girls aged 12 to 13, and extended to boys in 2019, the UK’s HPV immunisation programme aims to reduce morbidity and mortality from cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV by routinely offering vaccines to Year 8 schoolchildren. A study published in The Lancet in 2021, and funded by Cancer Research UK, discovered an 87 per cent reduction in cervical cancer since the introduction of the vaccination programme. In women born since 1 September 1995, the HPV immunisation programme has almost eliminated cervical cancer, the study reported. 

Peter Sasieni, professor of cancer prevention and academic director of the clinical trials unit, King’s College London said: “Assuming that most people continue to get the HPV vaccine and go for screening, cervical cancer will become a rare disease.”

Eradication of polio 

Once a global scourge, polio is now close to total elimination, with only a handful of cases reported worldwide every year. Although a vaccine has been available since the 1950s, the drive to finally wipe out the disease began in 1988 with the formation of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). A multi-partner initiative including the World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the GPEI fosters collaboration between national governments, thousands of polio vaccinators, health workers and community organisers. Together they reach more than 400 million children every year in more than 40 countries with over one billion doses of polio vaccines. 


NHS Electronic Prescription Service 


NHS prescriptions used to be filled out on green paper forms that the patient then took to a pharmacy. The system was admin-heavy and carried the risk that the form might get lost or damaged before medicine could be dispensed. Beginning its roll-out in 2013, the NHS Electronic Prescription Service has done away with paper forms for most prescriptions. Developed by NHS Digital, the service allows GP surgeries to send prescriptions directly to pharmacies, so they’ll be waiting there for the patient to collect. The service was initially trialled in England before the final phase – a full national roll-out – was announced in 2019. It has been praised for raising efficiency by eliminating the need for patients to pick up repeat prescriptions from their GP; allowing doctors to digitally sign and cancel prescriptions, rather than using a physical signature; and massively reducing admin and storage costs. 

To see the full list of APMs ’50 Projects for a Better Future’ visit

Healthcare Projects included in 50 Most Inspiring Projects of the Past 50 Years

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Last Updated: 14-Jun-2022