Next in our interview series is CEPI’s Dr Matthew Downham, who joined us at the Congress for a plenary session and a panel. We were excited to meet Dr Downham to get an insight into the work that CEPI is doing to encourage equitable access and establish sustainable practices in regions that need vaccines. Thank you to Dr Downham for his time and participation; we hope you enjoy the interview!

Introducing Dr Downham

Dr Downham kindly explained his role, which is Director of Manufacturing and Supply Chain Networks at CEPI. This role spans two “core areas”: the vaccine manufacturing and the supply chain aspect.

 

Lessons from COVID-19

Many of our expert speakers have a useful insight into what weaknesses and strengths were demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. When we asked Dr Downham about this he emphasised that, although we exposed some key areas for development, we also global “action”. Acknowledging the remarkable timeline compression, Dr Downham credits collaboration “right the way across the end-to-end value chain”.

However, Dr Downham identifies weaknesses in relation to supply. His panel at the Congress discussed geo-diversification of vaccine manufacturing and how to “mitigate one of the core issues, the core gaps”:

“Vaccine manufacturing is still provided from certain key powerhouse countries, high-income countries primarily, and it needs to be more geo-diversified to facilitate the speed, the scale, and the equitable access to those vaccines in future.”

 

How is CEPI encouraging this geo-diversification?

We asked Dr Downham about how CEPI is working to strengthen these areas of weakness from the pandemic. He suggests that there are a number of activities, such as clinical trials in areas that are most affected by the diseases they target. For more on the WHO R&D blueprint click here.

“What we’re focusing on is how to embolden countries and regions to be able to be in a self-sustaining kind of status.”

Alongside clinical trials, developing a central laboratory network is another goal, as well as the “vaccine manufacturing piece”. So far, last year’s expression of interest has “onboarded two facilities” with a view to further reach.

“The idea is that we identify with those facilities, through a process of due diligence and iteration, where they have gaps, where they have opportunities for capacity and capability build.”

This largely relates to pre-established vaccine manufacturers in these areas. For the future, Dr Downham looks forward to bringing on “smaller, newer players to the field” such as other service providers.

What about sustainability?

With the establishment of new facilities and the growth of others, how is CEPI keeping sustainability in mind? Dr Downham suggests that there are two main “buckets” to this “big question”. The “operational sustainability” involves things like regulatory elements, workforce training, development of expertise.

On the other hand, there is “environmental sustainability”.

“What drives the vaccine manufacturing is having vaccine demand.”

This requires “government intervention” to encourage a demand.

Without a market demand, the vaccine manufacturers can’t make something that doesn’t have a revenue stream for them; to ensure that they can retain that sustainability moving forwards they have to recoup their investments, their costs, and be able to ‘keep the lights on’.”

 

Coming to the Congress

As always, we love to learn about why our experts are looking forward to the event. Dr Downham’s answer explores the benefits of gathering the diverse community in one place. For example, the poster presentations offers an insight into the “future of the vaccinology world”. The exhibition floor reveals a “considerable amount of innovation”.

“CEPI is focused on innovation; the I in CEPI is for innovation!”

This innovation is not limited to vaccine manufacturing, but administrating, distributing, and storing vaccines.

“The networking and the engagement across a very talented, very experienced multi-functional community.”

 

Thank you so much to Dr Downham for his time and insights! We hope that you enjoy the interview, and look forward to continuing our conversation at future events. For more like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter, or download our post-event report for details of the Congress.