Expert insight

How every vaccine actor must play their part to make CEPI aims a reality

3 February 2017
  • Laetitia Bigger Director, Vaccines Policy

CEPI post_Jan 2017_image option QUOTEIn the wake of WEF Davos, there is consensus more than ever that the private sector has a role to play in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. From investment opportunities to research capabilities, collective ambitions to sharing information, many sectors see the value of coalitions and opportunities for the private sector to plug the gaps where single actors cannot. We’re seeing the coming-together of different actors in the pursuit of community-centered innovation like never before.

For the vaccines community, a multi-stakeholder approach is relevant and important. But the Global Goals can seem far off, and connecting with them an intangible task. Enter the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Launched at Davos, the public-private partnership set up to accelerate vaccines R&D for emerging infectious diseases included hard-hitting statistics from our recent collective memory.

Using data-led webpages and the hashtag #outsmartepidemics, we were shown how another 2,000 lives in Guinea alone would have been saved had the Ebola vaccine been released six weeks after the WHO declared an outbreak. Unfortunately, the international vaccines community did not give priority to Ebola before 2014, although Guinea perhaps benefitted most from the unparalleled speed of multiple sectors including manufacturers rallying to get the vaccine to the field, the likes of which CEPI celebrates and will make sure that we improve on.

And with that, the launch pages remind us of another important aspect of the initiative: the importance of conducting research, investment and innovation before an outbreak. A measles vaccine, one of the fastest to go from initial testing to safe vaccines for broad use, took nine years to deliver. Ebola vaccine testing began as far back as 2003, although the industry rapidly accelerated development in an incredibly short timescale during the outbreak. Vaccine development against HIV/AIDS, in testing since 1987, is still ongoing…

CEPI’s data-led glimpse of the future is frightening: if a flu-like pandemic occurred, exacerbated by urbanization and modern travel, it would hypothetically lead to 30 million deaths worldwide in a one-year period – the same as the population of Malaysia. A rapidly-deployed vaccine would reduce that figure to 650,000. That’s over 29 million lives saved.

There is, perhaps, no higher-impact health intervention – besides access to clean water and sanitation – than vaccines. CEPI is founded not in despair, but in capturing multi-stakeholder learning from the Ebola outbreak, and momentum for innovation as a ‘global insurance policy’ to save lives. The devastating economic consequences of potentially losing 29 million lives – members of the global work force, relatives caring for the sick, the cost of recovery – would be unprecedented, and estimated to be USD60billion. The WEF 2017 Global Risks Report suggests GDP may no longer be the only measure of global growth, with social prosperity being an important part of the calculation. Vaccines and immunization greatly improve long-term prosperity.

The private sector CEPI partners – including IFPMA members GSK, Johnson & Johnson, MSD, Pfizer, Sanofi-Pasteur, and Takeda – continue to bring the capabilities, knowledge, and ability to maintain investment in R&D, production and supply of new and improved vaccines. Bodies like IFPMA bring different company cultures and approaches under one umbrella to work towards the same goal in a multi-stakeholder community where everyone has their own critical role: governments and policy-makers are responsible for the distribution regulations and infrastructures, and the world’s medical NGOs need to leverage their powerful advocacy abilities. But it can’t happen without pharmaceutical manufacturers. CEPI depends on an interdependent network of organizations and stakeholders to improve vaccine innovation and technologies, reduce the delivery lead time, and ultimately ensure that the global community is better prepared when new threats emerge. Built into CEPI’s policy documentation is the idea of ‘shared risks, shared benefits’, which pharmaceutical manufacturers are well-placed as businesses not only to fully understand, but to make a reality.

Ebola and now Zika have demonstrated the need for vaccines to be developed before an outbreak becomes an emergency, for regulatory systems to be harmonized and simplified, and for national public health systems to be strengthened so that vaccines can rapidly reach the people who need them. What this demonstrates is that protecting the world from epidemics using vaccines is a multifaceted issue. Research, development, or all the stockpiling in the world would not effectively protect people without regulatory systems and international harmonization in place as enablers. Both the science and the systems need to be in place to develop and deploy vaccines quickly in a global health crisis.

At IFPMA, our vaccines mandate includes protecting communities by protecting the progress we have made to date, advancing vaccine technologies, and extending the benefits to everyone. We’re in full support of the aims of CEPI – whose launch invites us to “come together, research and invest, save lives and outsmart epidemics” – and we echo the strong industry commitment from vaccine manufacturers to work with the community to help meet this global challenge.