2021-06-21| COVID-19Policy

Outlining the Future of Vaccine Business: Industry, Investment, and Public Health

by Kathy Huang
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Vaccine business has become one of the most thriving industries during the pandemic. Big pharma companies benefit from it, but it is imperative to first satisfy the expectations and concerns of people worldwide.

At the BIO Digital 2021 virtual annual meeting, a segment titled “Vaccine Business – Five minutes of fame or five-time Oscar winner?” was moderated by Executive Director Amie Baston from WomenLift Health. The interactive panel reviewed the rapid development of vaccine technology in the past few years and deliberated its future. The panel consisted of

  1. Nanette Cocero, Global President, Pfizer Vaccines
  2. David Dodd, CEO, GeoVax Labs
  3. Joshua Liang, CEO, Clover Biopharmaceuticals
  4. Geoff Porges, Senior Managing Director, SVB Leerink

In the introduction, Baston mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic had ushered in a new level of collaboration for scientific research. It has resulted in global partnerships between companies and across borders, and public and private investors have funded unprecedented efforts than ever before, which benefits both companies and society.

This “new vaccine ecosystem” has resulted in the fastest development of vaccines in the 21st century. On top of that, it has potentially created an opportunity for achieving permanent positive change in the vaccine business. On the other hand, the rapid development has also caused severe global inequalities, in which some countries have access to vaccines for their population and appreciate the value of vaccines, while others don’t.

Baston continued the discussion with two questions: What have we learned over the past year about the vaccine business? And what prediction do we have for the future?


Unprecedented Collaboration among Pharma, Regulators, and Participants

To describe the nature of cooperation that resulted in the incredibly rapid development and introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, Nanette Cocero explained the phenomenon from three aspects.

First, she mentioned the cooperation between Pfizer and BioNTech. The two companies had cooperated since 2018 to explore the potential of mRNA vaccines for flu. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a collaboration that was initiated without a final contract. The two companies are aligned in the shared mission of rapid vaccine production.

Secondly, Cocero touched upon the role of global regulators. Cooperation with regulators around the world made the timelines for protocol reviews or receiving scientific advice dramatically short.

Thirdly, conducting the clinical trials gathered health officials, advocacy groups, and medical associations closely, so large-scale trials could operate smoothly, with diverse participants enrolling in the clinical trials.


Rapidly-Changing Business Model of Vaccine Technology

The discussion then extended to the focus on the changing vaccine business model. Geoff Porges said that newly emerging small companies with novel technologies have become substantial. Also, big pharma like well-known vaccine manufacturers GSK, J&J, and Pfizer has become bigger than ever by getting value from their vaccine business.

However, while investors are putting a lot of capital into this highly potential market, there are certainly some emerging risks. The commoditization of the market and the intellectual property rights for vaccines developed across many industries are examples.


Perspectives from a Chinese Vaccine Developer

Joshua Liang from China-based Clover Biopharmaceuticals shared his experience from a non-western company perspective. He said in China previously, they had no clinical-stage vaccine programs, not to mention global late-stage development experience.

He said that the pandemic had not just affected the developed world but low-income countries still tackling second and third waves of infections. Liang raised the issue of “equitable access” by encouraging companies to join global programs or organizations like COVX, WHO, CEPI to provide access to those countries in need.


Improving Global Public Health through Vaccines 

David Dodd pointed out that one of the positive outcomes of this pandemic is the global recognition of the importance of vaccines and their contribution to public health. In the past, when it came to medicine, we’ve always thought about therapeutics and medical devices, and now we finally appreciate the broadly applicable vaccines. Dodd believes the recognition of the public would continue to grow.

He noted that the challenge now is to continue educating and communicating the trade-offs, risks, and benefits to the public. Especially the pharma industries should be able to lay the foundation of public understanding.

Vaccines can also serve as a strategic approach to other diseases like cancers, by which we can enhance the utility of certain types of therapies and combine them with vaccines. Dodd believes that vaccines will definitely play a great role in global disease prevention as we strategically put more budgets into these disease areas.

Related Article: From Great Challenges to Great Opportunities: An Outlook on US-China Biotech Relationships


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