Vaccines community aims for proactive approach to combat frequent, rapid outbreaks


As the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks stretched into dozens of countries across the world with fatal consequences, many vaccines experts criticized a development system that’s always a step behind. However, one official says that with the urgency of new and rapid outbreaks, there may be signs of increased vaccine collaboration between stakeholders.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar said he believes governments, vaccine companies and research institutions are starting to join together to communicate and collaborate as recent outbreaks signal that the world is entering an era of more frequent and faster-moving pandemics. On working together, the sentiment is echoed by GSK’s vaccines chief medical officer Dr. Thomas Breuer, who told the newspaper that his company has engaged in those discussions in disease areas where the commercial prospects for a vaccine aren’t there.

While experts may be seeing new willingness to collaborate, the discussion of a flawed vaccine development process is not a new one: Ebola and Zika serve as recent examples of a system that often waits until a major epidemic is identified to initiate substantial work on R&D. Last June, as MERS was claiming lives in South Korea, experts said a vaccine against the virus could be developed, but that the research wasn’t completed because the commercial prospects for a MERS vaccine weren’t defined enough for profit-based companies to dive in.

Then, last July, several experts--Farrar included--published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine calling for a $2 billion global vaccines fund to pay for research in neglected disease areas. It’s an effort that has support from billionaire global health champion Bill Gates.

In speaking with the FT, Farrar said the world is going to experience “a number of these emergencies over the next 20-30 years,” adding that the health community can’t “waste a year each time searching around for candidates” in its response.

To address the issue, PaxVax CEO Nima Farzan has said governments and agencies such as the WHO could create economic incentives to spur private research. Vaccine stockpiles and reimbursed R&D can also incentivize the work, Farzan previously told FierceVaccines.

In the most recent case highlighting the issue, dozens of private companies and organizations are racing to advance Zika vaccine prospects as the virus makes its mark around the globe. And as seen in the Ebola epidemic, vaccine developers can finally advance promising candidates only to see an outbreak largely subside after claiming thousands of lives.

- here’s the FT piece (sub. req.)

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