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Sixth Global Vaccine Research Forum: many new life-saving vaccines in pipeline, but challenges persist

Millions more lives could be saved with new vaccines

Many new vaccines that have the potential to save millions of lives are in the research pipeline and will become available over the next decade. However, a number of challenges will have to be overcome before these vaccines can be put into widespread, sustainable use in developing countries where the needs are greatest.

"These are exciting times in vaccine development. Several new products will soon be available that together could protect millions of lives from disease," said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research, World Health Organization (WHO). "However, experience has shown that the uptake of new vaccines is extremely slow. We urgently must find solutions to deliver these powerful and proven health tools to all people at risk."

The obstacles to delivering new life-saving vaccines to people who need them are scientific, financial, technical and regulatory. The lack of an adequate supply of vaccines and the weaknesses of many developing country health systems in terms of low vaccine coverage, among other things, constitute additional challenges.

In the next decade or so, it is likely that the number of available vaccines will double from the current 20. It typically takes 12-15 years and US$ 200-500 million to develop a new vaccine. Recent progress in vaccine development includes:

  • Two rotavirus diarrhoea vaccines, one of which is already licensed in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Kuwait;
  • A tetravalent meningococcal meningitis vaccine (licensed in the United States) and a heptavalent vaccine protecting against meningitis A and C (to be licensed in 2007);
  • A nine-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine which showed 16% protection against overall child mortality in The Gambia;
  • Bivalent and tetravalent human papillomavirus vaccines protecting against cervical cancer;
  • A malaria vaccine which showed 58% protection against severe disease in a Phase II clinical trial in Mozambique;
  • An oral cholera vaccine showing close to 80% protective efficacy in Beira, Mozambique; and
  • A vaccine for Japanese encephalitis which will be submitted shortly to WHO for prequalification.

Participating over the past four days at the sixth Global Vaccine Research Forum, some 200 of the world's top vaccine scientists, public health experts, regulators and manufacturers from about 40 countries presented their state of the art research work and discussed challenges that lie ahead. The Forum's ultimate goal is to stimulate and accelerate research and development efforts on new vaccines, especially those targeting infectious diseases in developing countries.

Public-private partnerships — a number of which exist for vaccines against tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS, meningitis, hookworm, dengue, pneumococcal disease and rotavirus — are proving to be effective ways to develop vaccines for diseases prevalent in developing countries.

"Optimal success in both developing new vaccines and applying existing ones is still far from guaranteed," said Dr Donald P. Francis of Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases who gave the keynote address at the Forum. "The combination of lack of industry interest to make vaccines (often seen as low profit products) and the lack of resources to buy them for less developed countries has severely affected the pipeline for new vaccines and the application of previously licensed ones."

More support from governments of industrialized countries for vaccine research and development is critical and urgent. "Given the immense power of modern biotechnology, the possibilities to improve the world's health through new vaccines are vast," Dr Francis added.

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For more information contact:

Melinda Henry
WHO Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 2535
Fax: +41 22 791 4858
E-mail: henrym@who.int