Live from BIO: Collaborations are key in vaccine industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the vaccine market continues to grow--it's forecasted to hit $40 billion globally by 2015--there is a greater need for innovation in the field. That's according to a panel of vaccine experts who spoke yesterday at the 2011 BIO International Convention. "The easy vaccines have been created," observed Julie Gerberding, President of Merck Vaccines. She highlighted the "four Ds" of vaccine innovation: design, development, delivery and demand, in a discussion of business opportunities in the vaccine industry.

"It's getting harder and harder for one pharmaceutical company to take on the risk of an entire R&D portfolio," Gerberding said. And that's where partnerships and collaborations come into play as a major factor in the "four Ds." "We're all looking for the same thing: How to grow our business," said Donald Beeman, CEO of LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals. That desire fuels collaborations from big and small vaccinemakers, the panelists noted, as well as nonprofits. "I'm really glad there are so many more players, not just at the discovery level," Gerberding said. "We need really healthy, robust, resilient players at all stages of the game."

Dynavax Technologies first became known for their immunostimulatory DNA platform, but the company has changed its focus in recent years to become a medium-sized player in the vaccine industry. "We have not abandoned our platform technology," said Melissa Melhame, Senior Director of Commercial Development at Dynavax, "but we are now focusing on product development." The focus has led to collaborations with big pharma and small biotechs, both of which, Melhame notes, are fundamental to the company's sustainability.

Herberding noted that access is still the number one need in the vaccine industry, and while the cold chain isn't as problematic today as it once was, it can still present challenges. For the vaccines of the future, "we need to start with the assumption that the cold chain is not going to be an essential delivery component," she said.