The collaborative search for a COVID-19 vaccine

Magdalena R. de Azero

Magdalena R. de Azero, Executive Director Vaccines Europe, has more than 15 years professional experience working...
Read Morechevron_right
On 9 June Vaccines Europe and EFPIA organised “United in the search of a COVID-19 vaccine”, the first of a series of virtual events dedicated to COVID-19 vaccines and pandemic preparedness.  

Did you miss the event? Watch it again here.

As countries are gradually lifting the confinement measures, it is clear that new vaccines represent our best hope of moving out from under the shadow of the coronavirus epidemic.

The research-based pharmaceutical industry is working around the clock, at unprecedented speed to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 149 candidate vaccines in preclinical evaluation and 38 in clinical evaluation*. Several technology platforms are being assessed, including nucleic acid (DNA and RNA), virus-like particle, peptide, viral vector (replicating and non-replicating), recombinant protein, live attenuated virus and inactivated virus approaches. You can find here a few of many examples of how EFPIA and Vaccines Europe members are supporting efforts in the prevention of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Collaborative approaches have been a feature of the industry response to COVID-19. There are multiple research initiatives are under way, with academic groups, start-ups and vaccine manufacturers working to find and test preventative tools.

This global pandemic requires a global response. The European Commission has joined governments, Foundations and industry in the World Health Organization’s ACT Accelerator Initiative with the aim of developing fast and equitable access to safe, quality, effective and affordable diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines against COVID-19.

Vaccine development typically takes several years of research and development and clinical trials. But the sheer scale of this global pandemic has created an urgent need for solutions. Researchers across the world are joining forces as never before to speed up the process, leveraging science and technology developed during other epidemics like Ebola and Zika and conducting phases of development in parallel. The pharmaceutical industry is working with the R&D community, health authorities, regulatory agencies and funding bodies to accelerate efforts and bring safe and effective vaccines to people as soon as possible.

But discovering and developing safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 is just the first chapter in the recovery story.

Once a successful vaccine is found, we’ll need to supply billions of doses in the shortest timeframe possible. COVID-19 is a threat to people everywhere. Vaccine scale-up and manufacture is a time intensive process.

As different vaccine technology platforms work in different ways, timelines for manufacturing will depend on which platform will be found effective. On average, it takes between 12-36 months to manufacture a vaccine before it is ready for distribution. Under these unprecedented circumstances, all actors involved in the development process are looking to expand manufacturing capabilities and share available capacity. Vaccine developers will begin manufacturing at risk. That means in order to have a vaccine available to people right after its approval, manufactures will scale up production facilities and begin manufacture even before they have regulatory approval for their vaccine. Each vaccine requires unique equipment and processes. Companies usually build manufacturing sites specifically for a given vaccine. It is a huge financial risk, but companies are acutely aware of the importance of ensuring vaccines are accessible to all the citizens and patients that need them. Similarly, Foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and government bodies such as BARDA in the US are providing funding to help share the risk of ramping up manufacture at an unprecedented scale.

As COVID-19 keeps us apart, our industry is coming together to fight COVID-19 and #WeWontRest until there is a vaccine available to anyone.