Recently, Bill Gates injected new energy and resources into the immunization field with an unprecedented pledge of US$10 billion through 2020 for vaccine development and delivery. It was a great start to the new decade. From my vantage point at one of the world’s largest vaccine companies, I can identify three conditions that will be needed for the next ten years to live up to the designation of the “decade of vaccines.”
Research and Development: The first condition is a robust and sustained investment in vaccine R&D. By now, vaccines have been developed for many pediatric diseases, such as polio and measles. But many challenges still remain – including HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and dengue fever. Continued investment and scientific breakthroughs will be needed.
In 2009 alone, GSK invested US$6.3 billion of our own resources into R&D for vaccines and medicines, with a team of 15,000 people working to push the boundaries of health innovation. We are also working with groups such as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation to leverage our resources. Indeed, our malaria vaccine candidate, currently in a pivotal Phase III trial in Africa, is being jointly developed with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI). If all goes as planned, the world’s first malaria vaccine could be available within five years or so.
Manufacturing capacity: The second necessary condition is sufficient manufacturing capacity to satisfy global demand. Our company is addressing this global need by building new and expanded facilities in the U.S., Belgium, France, Germany and Singapore and by engaging in innovative joint ventures with leading companies in Brazil, China and Japan. New financing mechanisms, such as the recently launched Pneumococcal Advance Market Commitment (AMC), help companies invest in development and manufacturing capacity by guaranteeing the availability of initial funds to purchase vaccines. For example, we built our new plant in Singapore to help us deliver hundreds of millions of pneumococcal vaccine doses globally, including to developing countries.
Global Access: The third condition is the expansion of global access to vaccines. GSK does its part by discounting vaccines sold for use in immunization programs in the world’s poorest countries by 90% or more, an approach our company pioneered more than 25 years ago. Increasingly, “tiered pricing” is used in middle-income countries as well. As with the first two conditions, ensuring global access depends on the creation of innovative partnerships with numerous public and not-for-profit entities. These range from GSK’s work with the GAVI Alliance on childhood immunizations to our partnership with Rotary International to eradicate polio.
Will these conditions be met over the next 10 years? The challenges I have outlined here are not trivial, but I am an optimist by nature. There is a renewed focus on reducing childhood mortality to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, which will certainly help. With sustained investment and political commitment, this can indeed be the “decade of vaccines.” The societal benefits would be incalculable: millions of lives saved and illnesses averted, giving children around the world a better opportunity to lead healthy, productive and happy lives.
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