In its first pipeline review of its 15 member companies, Vaccines Europe explores the 100 vaccine candidates in development as of July 2022. Reflecting on the importance of vaccines and successful vaccination programmes, the report highlights the role they play in sustaining economies, healthcare systems, and promoting patient wellbeing. However, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we became acutely aware of the need for an “innovative research-based pharmaceutical industry” and the “complexity of the vaccine ecosystem”.
“Vaccines do not save lives, vaccination does.”
Furthermore, COVID-19 highlighted the importance of being prepared for the unknown. Thus, the review investigates the products in development from its member companies, demonstrating a “promising pipeline” for the “challenges of today and tomorrow”. However, a key question that Executive Director Sibilia Quilici asks is whether Europe is “ready to welcome such a promising vaccines pipeline”. With a “low level of investment” in immunisation programmes from EU Member States, we will continue to see vaccine inequity and hesitancy.
Thus, Vaccines Europe “calls for early, open, and continued dialogue, collaboration, and coordination with all stakeholders” to encourage the vaccine industry to establish itself in Europe.
Foreword from Quilici
Sibilia Quilici writes in the foreword to the review that “vaccines have greatly reduced the prevalence of infectious diseases everywhere in the world” since the invention of the smallpox vaccine. This continues to the present day, as has become evident in “addressing the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
As we have developed new vaccines, “life-threatening and debilitating” diseases have become more manageable, and we have set our sights on “global elimination plans”.
“Vaccines address significant unmet medical and social needs, contributing to 14 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”
However, while we have vaccines for many infectious diseases, there are still those “for which no vaccine or treatment has been developed”. Furthermore, the “worrying evolution of the climate” is enabling new disease outbreaks. Quilici recognises that the vaccine industry is working tirelessly to develop new candidates. These candidates will only save lives if we also focus on “readiness”. The pipeline review “aims at providing the EU institutions and Member States visibility on the next generation of vaccines for better preparedness and society resilience-building”.
Global challenges: pandemic preparedness
The report continues with an emphasis on the role of vaccine innovation in “improving public health, increasing the efficiency of healthcare, contributing to socio-economic advancements, and bettering people’s quality of life”. However, current global challenges “remind us of the need for resilient health systems, environments supportive of innovation, and strong collaboration”.
The most recent and recognisable example of this has been the COVID-19 pandemic. It highlighted the effect that diseases can have on “people’s health, quality of life, and mortality”. Although vaccination was “at the heart of the response” to the pandemic, the development and deployment of effective vaccines in “record time” were dependent on “decades of research and collaboration”. Despite the success that some countries experience in their vaccination campaigns, others were ill-equipped and poorly supported in the effort to “reach and protect their citizens”.
The report at a glance: prophylactic vaccines
The pipeline review comprises “publicly available information” to “highlight current trends in the research and development of vaccines”. By July 2022, there were 100 candidates in the pipeline of Vaccines Europe members. Of this 100, 92 were prophylactic vaccines, and the remaining 8 were therapeutic.
The most common targets for these candidates were COVID-19, followed by RSV. The image below, from the Vaccines Europe report, conveys the distribution of vaccines.
46% of the candidates target diseases for which there is no registered vaccine. A further 54% of the candidates address disease areas that already have vaccines. The intention for these candidates is to “improve formulations to increase the convenience for healthcare professionals and patients”, to expand the population eligible for the vaccine, to include “more target strains” in the vaccine, to develop combination vaccines, or to use a “new approach”.
The report also demonstrates that a “life-course” approach is becoming established. The importance of adult immunisation was again emphasised by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are aware of the need to offer the “benefits of vaccination” to the “entire life span”.
Another area of interest is travel vaccines. With greater global mobility, the spread of infectious diseases is increased. Thus, travel vaccines are recommended. Current candidates in development include vaccines against chikungunya virus and rabies.
Finally, vaccines against “drug-resistant infections” are critical. It is estimated that by 2050, “10 million people could die every year because of AMR”. It is projected to cost up to or over $1 trillion a year by that time. As Dr Weller highlighted, vaccines are a key element of our “global toolbox” against AMR. Vaccines Europe members are developing 11 vaccine candidates for antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the WHO’s Priority Pathogens list.
The report at a glance: therapeutic vaccines
Therapeutic vaccines are part of a field “still in its infancy”, the report suggests. Using a “wide variety” of technology platforms, such as mRNA, or viral vector vaccines, these candidates are intended to “boost or redirect the immune response and help to clear the disease”. The smaller category is infectious diseases vaccines, with a handful of vaccines in development against hepatitis B and Herpes simplex virus.
On the other hand, therapeutic approaches to cancer are becoming more widely investigated, with “two main approaches”. The first is a “prophylactic approach and refers to the prevention of infection-related cancers”. For example, a liver cancer could be a consequence of hepatitis B infection. The second approach is “curative”. For these candidates, the “goal” is “to induce tumour regression, eradicate minimal residual disease, establish lasting antitumour memory, and avoid non-specific or adverse reactions”.
However, this is a “challenging” task, because the “intervention must combat an immune system that has been restrained by mechanisms that sustain the disease in an attempt at self-tolerance”. Despite this, and as we have been exploring in previous posts, there are some positive results emerging.