In September 2022 Japan’s Strategic Centre of Biomedical Advanced Vaccine Research and Development for Preparedness and Response (SCARDA) announced its investment in future vaccine research. An article in Nature suggested that this comes after Japan recognised it was “slow” to develop vaccines for COVID-19.  

The Japanese government announced that it intends to invest US$2 billion in a research initiative to ensure that it is ready to respond to future threats. The eight target pathogens include coronaviruses, monkeypox, dengue virus, and zika virus. The technologies also vary, encompassing mRNA technology, viral vectors, and recombinant proteins.  

Lessons from the pandemic 

Dr Ken Ishii from the University of Tokyo described Japan as “too slow to catch up” with the global rate of vaccine production. Nature suggests that the “three most advanced COVID-19 vaccine candidates are still in late-stage clinical trials” and none is approved for use. Thus, in March the government established SCARDA, with a formal launch taking place in November.  

Dr Toshihiro Horii of Osaka University hopes that this “tremendously huge amount of money” will give the Japanese vaccine scene a much-needed boost. For Dr Yoshihiro Kawaoka, University of Tokyo and head of the central SCARDA research centre, the initiative promises to unite key players in a “unique” way. The central facility will be based in Tokyo and supported by 4 “core institutes”: Osaka University, Nagasaki University, Hokkaido University, and Chiba University. A further 5 institutions will offer “support services” like animal models.  

100-day target for the future 

The aim of this new centre will be to “produce diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines” within the first 100 days of a pathogen with pandemic potential being identified. First targeted by the UK in 2021, this 100-day figure was supported by other in the G7 group. Dr Michinari Hamaguchi is the director-general of SCARDA. He believes that it has “much to learn from BARDA” as well as other funding initiatives like CEPI.  

Nature reports that two of the early projects aim to “develop universal coronavirus vaccines” and vaccines against the SARS group or coronavirus. Further goals include a fast-track system for evaluating candidates. The centre will hire around 30 staff members and has funding for around 5 years. The article in Nature provides some insight into the financial breakdown.  

  • $1.2 bullion will go to vaccine research and development projects 
  • $400 million will support start-ups in drug development 
  • $400 million will be spent on setting up a virtual network of centres of excellence for basic research in vaccine science, and testing vaccine candidates in early-stage trials 

 For more on how to prepare for future disease threats come to the World Vaccine Congress in Europe 2022