Our next interview from the Congress last month was a recorded conversation with BARDA’s Dr Sandeep Patel. Dr Patel joined us for the Biodefence workshop, presenting a session before moderating a panel. We were glad that he made time to join us and give an insight into his work at BARDA. In this article we have transcribed some of his thoughts alongside audio from the conversation. We hope that you enjoy the interview!

Introducing Dr Patel and DRIVe

Dr Patel kindly explained his current role for us; he is Director of BARDA’s Division of Research Innovation Ventures (DRIVe). This is a 50 person team that works on “substantial technologies” to prepare for and respond to future disease outbreaks. The team takes a “holistic approach”, trying not only to develop technologies but “put them in a position where they have impact”.

“For example, with vaccines, trying to think about the vaccination experience and how do we improve that.”

Their ‘Beyond the Needle‘ programme, for example, is focused on micro-needle skin patches for vaccine delivery to “make it easier for people to access vaccines” as well as improving storage and shipping options. DRIVe also has a focus on “ways to enhance next-generation vaccines” by thinking about durability of vaccines, addressing the immunocompromised, generally thinking about “enabling technologies”.

“One of our goals is to be able to rapidly respond to emerging outbreaks…we’re really invested in on-demand, small footprint vaccine manufacturing.”


Encouraging innovation

We asked Dr Patel how DRIVe encourages the innovation that it identifies, he suggests that the people “doing” the innovation are the small companies, or start-ups. Therefore, the team at DRIVe works with the guiding principle “move fast”. Dr Patel recognises that smaller companies can have funding sensitivities, so time is of the essence.

Another approach is the “multiple shots on goals” method. This involves bringing people who might not be part of the vaccine community into the sphere to bring their innovation to the fore for vaccine research.

Finally, the “high-risk, high-reward” mentality.

“We just try to take risks…we recognise that a lot of things will fail, and that’s important.”


Public-private partnerships

DRIVe aims to form “unique” public-private partnerships, so we asked Dr Patel about the significance of these partnerships. For Dr Patel, they are “critical”.

“Everything we do, we consider public-private partnerships.”

At the centre of this is a need to “share risk”. Vaccines and infectious diseases are “incredibly risky” and despite the “enormous public value”, the private sector knows “how to deliver” and “do the work”.

“It’s really important for government to step in and take away some risk.”

Last year the team launched BARDA Ventures, working with the investment community. The aim is to encourage investment in areas that seem important like next-generation vaccines and emergency products.


Sustainability vs “move fast”

Noting the idea of “move fast” as a guiding principle, we asked Dr Patel about the role that sustainability plays here. He acknowledges that “in outbreaks and emergencies” we become involved in a “panic-neglect cycle”. In order to prevent falling into this trap, Dr Patel believes we need to “create more financially sustainable mechanisms for investment”. Thus, the investment movement of BARDA ventures comes into play. This would provide continuous development, rather than a reactionary approach.

“We’re not just responding to health emergencies but we’re always investing in what’s next.”


Coming to the Congress

Our final question, as always, allows us to understand what our experts are looking forward to at the event. Dr Patel was glad to see partners and encounter new technologies.

“I’m really excited also to meet new companies…we’re always looking for future partners!”

We hope that the Congress was fruitful for Dr Patel and his colleagues, and we are grateful for his time! To make sure you get the latest like this in your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter today.