Live From BIO: Vaccines in the 21st century

CHICAGO - With new pathogens coming to the fore, new vaccines are absolutely still necessary, an expert panel said Tuesday at the BIO 2010 convention. But while opportunities exist, so do a number of challenges.

During the session, Jan ter Meulen, executive director and head of vaccine research at Merck, identified opportunities companies can pursue in vaccine development. There are a number of infectious diseases without an approved vaccine. In addition, therapeutic vaccines, cancer vaccines, and those that protect against diseases that affect the elderly also represent targets for drugmakers.

Ter Meulen also pointed out that nosocomial pathogens represent a huge opportunity. Just yesterday, Switzerland's GlycoVaxyn and Professor Jean Lee, principal investigator at the Channing Laboratory, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, announced they have received a $3.4 million NIH grant to finance preclinical development of a novel Staphylococcus aureus vaccine, a major cause of hospital-based infections.

Many vaccine makers are also looking for partnering opportunities. Gavin Zealey, executive director of sanofi pasteur, told the audience the company has 28 vaccines in development and is always looking for partners to help.  Sanofi is seeking partnerships for--among other things--antigens, adjuvants, animal models, fermentor and bioteactor technology. It recently concluded agreements with Syntiron on a vaccine to prevent disease caused by Staphylococcus aureus, with KaloBios to collaborate on a vaccine to prevent Pseudomonas aeruginose infections and with the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center on a traveler's diarrhea vaccine.

Partnerships are critical to the pharma and biotechnology industries and are currently the most common source of new products, technology platforms and support technologies in the pharma industry, Zealey said.

But there are limitations with the current approach, including long development times, long production cycles, the need for specialized manufacturing facilities, immunogencity constraints, shipping and Limitations of current approach: long development times, long production cycles, specialized manufacturing facilities, immunogencity constraints, shipping and storage issues--cold chain isn't available all over the world--and cost, as Vijay Samant, CEO of Vical.

Samant also provided insight into what he sees as changing in the vaccine development world. There are new players in the arena who are developing niche vaccines and drug delivery alternatives. In addition, there are new emerging pathogens, and new technology reaching proof-of-concept. He also sees vaccines as playing a key role in pharma growth.

- get the GlycoVaxyn release