Chorus grows for reform in vaccine development process

As the Ebola outbreak continues to wane in West Africa, vaccines experts are combing over what went wrong--and right--with the development of vaccine candidates against the virus.

Notably, Merck's ($MRK) rVSV-ZEBOV recorded 100% protection in a Phase III trial, but in a New York Times article following the results, several officials said that the current process for developing vaccines of all types is flawed and delivers promising candidates too late during an outbreak. In addressing future public health crises, a group has called for a $2 billion vaccines fund to pay for research against conditions in which Big Pharma doesn't see a market.

Successful vaccines take years and in many cases even decades to make, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs, factors that can be off-putting for profit-based pharma companies needing to recoup their research investments. The model has led to scrutiny from health experts who say that industry, governments, foundations and others should join together to fund research for vaccines against conditions that aren't getting attention.

The group figures that an initial $2 billion investment can pay for the development of three to four candidates and would ultimately pale in comparison to staggering triage expenses associated with outbreaks such as the $8 billion spent during the Ebola outbreak, NYT reports--not to mention the 11,000 lives lost.

The group's analysis comes on the heels of a June Reuters report stating that, for Big Pharma, the economics of a MERS vaccine aren't defined enough to get involved with the research. The respiratory virus so far has taken more than 460 lives and has received minimal research funding.

"The question is: How long are we going to wait around and just follow these outbreaks before we get serious about making vaccines?" Adrian Hill, a professor and director at the Jenner Institute at Britain's Oxford University, told the news service.

- here's the NYT story
- and the call for a vaccines fund in The New England Journal of Medicine