Powering vaccine R&D: opportunities for transformation
When the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group decided in 2019 to consider ways to improve the research and development (R&D) component of the vaccine/vaccination ecosystem, SARS-CoV-2 (formally, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) was an unknown virus, and the word COVID-19, the disease it causes, had yet to be coined. While the subsequent pandemic made vaccine R&D appear to have been a prescient choice for the group’s annual meeting and report, we had initially chosen the topic to expand on our first report, Accelerating the Development of a Universal Influenza Vaccine, which focused on a single vaccine (Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group, 2019).
As SARS-CoV-2 spread, the group retooled to ensure that we learned as much as possible from the unfolding pandemic, the historic pace of the response and the revolutionary technologies that were put to such swift use to combat it. Recognizing the imperative to be better prepared for the next such crisis, we also saw a crucial need to draw on experiences with prior and ongoing vaccine R&D for emerging diseases such as Ebola and Zika; to consider perennial challenges, such as influenza, malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); and to ponder needed improvements on some existing vaccines, such as pertussis. There are both similarities and significant differences in the nature of these threats and how they need to be addressed, but each has something to teach us about the strengths and flaws in the current R&D enterprise — and the path forward.