When future generations look back at the pandemic, they will deem it a black swan event. However, they will also revere it as the era that expanded the vaccine revolution.
When the healthcare systems were strained to their limits to social and economic upheaval around the globe, vaccines spearheaded the global response as a cost-effective, accessible and long-term solution. Today, 72% of the world population has successfully received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Such a feat of human excellence was possible only with relentless innovation and research, willingness to form partnerships, and investment in the right technology. The same drill is now being applied to combat other diseases as well.
Let’s delve deep into the crucial role vaccines played in the fight against COVID-19, highlighting their significance in preventing infections, crucial collaborations, the emergence of mRNA as the next big revolution in the vaccine space and more.
Impactful alliances between vaccine manufacturers, technology providers, research institutes, governments, regulatory rolling reviews etc. played a crucial role in curbing the pandemic. For example, our collaboration with Oxford University’s Jenner Institute helped the optimisation of the rabies vaccine platform, assuring compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) requirements. Similarly, our partnership on a Schistosomiasis vaccine with Baylor College of Medicine resulted in process improvements, better output, and significant reduction in membrane area required during the purification process. The vaccine platform was further repurposed with the SARS-CoV2 receptor binding domain for COVID-19 vaccine development.
Many valuable public-private partnerships surfaced during the pandemic ensuring seamless sharing of expertise, resources, and infrastructure, leading to faster vaccine development and delivery. Lessons from these collaborations highlight the importance of teamwork, coordination, and proactive planning during global health crises.
COVID brought the potential of vaccines to the spotlight and showed the world a variety of options to fight infectious diseases. Vaccines are typically priced relatively low starting at a few dollars per dose, while the economic costs of illness, including hospitalisation, and intensive care can be significantly higher. Additionally, vaccines with low investments and quick turnaround time compared to the other treatments makes them a better alternative to traditional therapeutics. Hence, vaccination is crucial in preventing infectious diseases and reducing the socioeconomic burden they place on individuals and families.
While traditional vaccination techniques remain important, the introduction of mRNA technology has resulted in amazing advances in vaccine manufacturing. mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines represent a ground-breaking technology that utilises a small piece of the virus’s genetic material, specifically the mRNA, to instruct cells in the body to produce a harmless viral protein. This protein triggers an immune response, priming the immune system to recognise and fight the actual virus if the individual later becomes infected.
Advancements in mRNA technology showcase its potential for addressing a diverse range of diseases beyond COVID-19, including malaria, respiratory diseases, and various cancers. While mRNA is being investigated for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza (flu) prevention, its potential for skin cancer is in the later development phase. mRNA’s rapid development, high efficacy, favourable safety profile, adaptability to emerging variants, scalability, and contributions to public health makes mRNA vaccines a crucial tool in curbing the pandemic.
The flexibility of the mRNA platform allows for easy modification of vaccine sequences with identical purification steps, leading to improved efficiency in process development, and expecting smoother regulatory approval process since it’s a platform technology mRNA technology requires downscaled facilities with lower safety level requirements), reducing the overall size of the manufacturing footprint. All of these contributes to speed-to-market of a drug development.
COVID-19 has demonstrated that the threat of future pandemics is real, and vaccines can be our most effective exit strategy against the same.
The scientific community is actively working to determine how pandemic learning can be applied to other infectious diseases. Multiple initiatives in the vaccine space are surfacing where the regional manufacturing footprint is expanding, from both MNCs like Moderna and Sanofi and domestic players as well. We are optimistic to expect better results from these emerging vaccines targeting different diseases.
This article is authored by Josephine Cheng, Senior Consultant Vaccine & mRNA Modalities, Bioprocessing Strategy, Process Solutions, Merck.