With just weeks to go until the World Vaccine Congress in Washington, we are delighted to continue sharing interviews. In this post, we spoke to Dr Ike James, Head of Technology Transfer at the Medicines Patent Pool. Dr James will participate in the conversation around global manufacturing capacity.  

In this interview, we got an insight into Dr James’ work with MPP and his session at the Congress. This was a written interview. We are so grateful for Dr James’ time and the answers he provided, and we hope that you enjoy reading them! 

Can you tell us more about MPP and your work there? 

Dr James works at the Medicines Patent Pool, the UN-backed public health organisation working to increase access to and facilitate the development of medicines for LMICs. He describes the lack of “proper access to essential medicines and healthcare” which leads to the neglect of “fundamental healthcare needs”. He identifies “millions of people” who face “catastrophic health expenditures”.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated such inequities.”  

So, what is MPP hoping to do about this? Dr James states that it exists to “help people in LMICs live longer and healthier lives”. 

“We do this by driving down the costs of vital medicines and technology through licensing and technology transfer, and working closely with others in public health to ensure better access to the products and technologies that people in LMICs need.” 

The role that Dr James holds in MPP is lead on the technology transfer component of their mandate. His “initial focus” has primarily been  the mRNA technology transfer programme they are “co-leading with WHO”. However, his team will also be “working with partners” to “support technology transfer for other health technologies. These include “complex formulations and biotherapeutics”.  

Challenges we face in pursuing accessible vaccines 

Recently, many of us became aware of accessibility concerns involved in developing and delivering vaccines. Indeed, Dr James says that these concerns were “highlighted” by the COVID-19 pandemic, which emphasised the need for “local sustainable manufacturing of vaccines and other essential medical products”.  

“The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in the existing pull and push mechanisms for vaccine research, development, and manufacturing.”  

Moving forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr James identifies some areas for consideration.  

  • Investment in R&D for neglected diseases: the pharmaceutical industry has historically focused on developing drugs for markets that are profitable, leading to a lack of investment for neglected diseases. This has resulted in a shortage of vaccines for diseases that affect the world’s poorest populations. 
  • Establishing local production capability: we are reliant on a few manufacturers for vaccines and other essential medical products. This leads to supply chain disruptions and shortages during global health emergencies.  
  • Access to technology and information: developing countries often lack access to the technology and information needed to develop and manufacture vaccines locally. This results in a dependence on imports, which can lead to supply chain disruptions and high costs.  
What changes are coming, and which do we need to drive? 

We hear a lot from our speakers about changes that were accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are also areas where further change is needed. We asked Dr James about these areas, and he highlighted some key focus points for us. 

  • Surveillance and monitoring of emerging and re-emerging diseases are essential for protecting public health: by identifying outbreaks early, preventing disease transmission, and improving treatment outcomes, surveillance systems can help to reduce the impact of these diseases on individuals and communities. 
  • Speed of vaccine development: this is often limited by the time required for clinical trials and regulatory approval. This can take several years, which may not be fast enough in the case of rapidly spreading diseases. 
  • Manufacturing capacity: the scale-up of vaccine production to meet global demand can be a major challenge, particularly for new and complex vaccines. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for increased global vaccine production capacity.  
  • Equitable access: ensuring equitable access to vaccines, especially for populations in LMICs, remains a challenge. This is often due to the high cost of vaccines and limited resources for vaccine delivery in these regions. 
Levelling the playing field 

Dr James’ panel explores gaps between “multinational manufacturers” and LMIC vaccine production capacity. We asked for insight into how Dr James believes we can close this gap. He therefore suggested several steps that might get us closer to “local sustainable manufacturing”.

  • Increase investment in R&D for neglected diseases: we need greater investment in R&D for neglected diseases so that vaccines and other medical products can be developed and manufactured locally.  
  • Promote technology transfer and sharing: developed countries can help by transferring technology and information to developing countries, enabling them to manufacture vaccines locally. 
  • Strengthen local pharmaceutical industries: developing countries need to strengthen their local pharmaceutical industries through investment in infrastructure and training. This helps to create sustainable manufacturing capabilities and reduce dependence on imports. 
  • Foster regional and international collaboration: this ensures that everyone has access to the vaccines and other medical products they need. This includes sharing information, technology, and resources to achieve common goals, as well as encourage investment and build resilience through demand signals and procurement models that prioritise locally produced vaccines.  
Why the Congress? 

We ask our speakers why they are coming to the Congress, and what they most look forward to. For Dr James, the answer is simple. 

“COVID-19 has certainly left a legacy; I would be eager to hear of new ideas and progresses towards being better prepared next time.”  

We hope you enjoyed this interview with Dr James, and we look forward to hearing more at the Congress in April. To join us, get your tickets here. Thank you to Dr James for the time and thought he gave us!