After prior outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, Middle East respiratory syndrome and other emerging diseases left thousands dead, experts expected another crisis—it was only a matter of time. Again with the novel coronavirus, medical and scientific communities have been caught off guard, and industry officials are talking about implementing better preventive measures.
In an interview with the Japan Times, Takeda CEO Christophe Weber said the “world has to be more proactive than reactive” in its vaccine investment. Weber was previously head of GSK’s vaccines group, the largest vaccine maker by sales worldwide. This current outbreak aside, more will surely come, the CEO added.
The novel coronavirus outbreak started late last year and has turned into a global emergency with more than 2,100 dead and 75,000 people ill, mostly in China’s Hubei province.
Takeda’s vaccine outfit doesn’t match the likes of other top players, but Weber plans to make it a core business group, Japan Times reports. The company is advancing a dengue vaccine—despite Sanofi’s struggles in the field—and plans to submit the shot for approval within two years.
Outbreak prep is a subject that Weber’s previous boss, former GSK CEO Andrew Witty, spoke on frequently. Back at the end of 2016, he said that the effort would require more investment in manufacturing. Existing plants are mostly running at max capacity already, so adding the urgent need for a new vaccine—and one that might not make money in the long run—forces drugmakers to make tough choices.
The vaccine industry has made some advances in outbreak prep since prior emergencies. The world now has an approved Ebola vaccine in Merck’s Ervebo, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) formed to help fund risky R&D work on needed vaccines.
In responding to the novel coronavirus, CEPI has awarded millions to Inovio, Moderna, CureVac and other groups working in the vaccine race. The U.S. government has partnered with Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi in separate deals.
When Sanofi entered its own partnership, the company’s vaccine chief Derek Loew said that with many factors unknown, “industry can’t carry alone all the risks." Experts don't know how the outbreak will play out, and the long-term economics of a vaccine remain uncertain.