A Fund to Fill the Vaccine Gap

Supporting researching to combat the next big pandemic.

Dan Page
Sarah Smith
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Sarah Smith
Oct. 9, 2015, 5 a.m.

After see­ing the world flounder in re­sponse to the Ebola crisis, three aca­dem­ics—Pro­fess­or Ad­el Mah­moud of Prin­ceton, Pro­fess­or Jeremy Far­rar of Ox­ford, and Pro­fess­or Emer­it­us Stan­ley Plotkin of the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania—had an idea that could help pre­pare for the next pan­dem­ic: Cre­ate a glob­al fund for re­search­ers who are de­vel­op­ing vac­cines that are past the point of be­ing fun­ded by gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions but aren’t yet at­tract­ive to phar­ma­ceut­ic­al com­pan­ies. I re­cently spoke with Mah­moud about the idea. Our ex­change has been ed­ited and con­densed.

What prob­lem in vac­cine de­vel­op­ment would the fund ad­dress?

It’s a re­flec­tion of the dif­fi­culties that this world faced when the Ebola out­break star­ted spread­ing in West Africa, and we were poorly pre­pared. In our world, there are a lot of or­gan­iz­a­tions—like NIH, ob­vi­ously—that sup­port dis­cov­ery re­search. We have had three or four—some­times people will tell you sev­en—po­ten­tial vac­cines for Ebola that were dis­covered and put in a freez­er. So the area of dis­cov­ery re­search, which says, “This is a po­ten­tial XYZ,” is well-sup­por­ted.

Now on the oth­er ex­treme end, when there is an at­tract­ive vac­cine, par­tic­u­larly for the Big Pharma com­pan­ies, they will go after it and spend their own money if the vac­cine seems to have a mar­ket or a need—or there is a glob­al crisis, like what happened with Ebola. Two ma­jor phar­ma­ceut­ic­al com­pan­ies took the ini­ti­at­ive to de­vel­op vac­cines and test them. But be­fore this, the re­sponse was a fail­ure on a lot of levels. We did not have a vac­cine in spite of the fact the vir­us was dis­covered over 40 years ago. Pos­sible vac­cines were in the freez­er—they wer­en’t ready to be de­veloped and de­ployed. They had not gone through test­ing.

In between the dis­cov­ery and a glob­al dis­aster, there is what we call the “val­ley of the death.” That area is where dis­cov­ery re­search is be­ing con­duc­ted in gov­ern­ment labor­at­or­ies and in aca­demia, but there is no clear-cut use for the vac­cine, ex­cept pre­par­ing for the un­seen fu­ture, or it is not com­mer­cially vi­able. That is the gap. We need a vac­cine for MERS (Middle East Res­pir­at­ory Syn­drome), for ex­ample, or SARS (Severe Acute Res­pir­at­ory Syn­drome).

How would the glob­al vac­cine fund work?

First, we have to raise the money. The­or­et­ic­ally, money for something like that would need to be raised from gov­ern­ment, from phil­an­thropy, or from in­dustry. It should have a board, a me­di­um-sized board of about 12 to 15 ideally, not a big board. The board should rep­res­ent the key ele­ments in the pro­cess of that fund: gov­ern­ment, some in­dustry, bi­o­tech­no­logy, the phil­an­throp­ic or­gan­iz­a­tions, maybe the aca­dem­ic and so­cial or­gan­iz­a­tions, and some of the in­ter­na­tion­al or­gan­iz­a­tions. It would then open its pro­cesses in a very trans­par­ent way to be judged by an in­de­pend­ent sci­entif­ic vo­lun­teer com­mit­tee from uni­versit­ies, gov­ern­ment, and re­search in­sti­tu­tions. It would have fund­ing based on pro­pos­als that are sub­mit­ted and re­com­men­ded, and it would ab­so­lutely mon­it­or pro­gress and de­liv­er­ables.

How much money would you want the fund to raise?

Our pro­pos­al is for a $2 bil­lion fund. We’re prob­ably talk­ing about between $100 and $200 mil­lion to take a can­did­ate product dis­covered in a labor­at­ory to the end. So, if you have $1 bil­lion, you can fund between five and 10 pro­jects. If you have the $2 bil­lion, you can fund between 10 and 20 pro­jects.

How would you re­plen­ish the money?

The main source is to go back to the fun­ders who gave the money and say, “Look, we have ac­com­plished what we set out to do, and we need some money.” An­oth­er the­or­et­ic­al angle—and at this point it’s very the­or­et­ic­al—is that if the fund helps the de­vel­op­ment pro­cess for a vac­cine, and it is picked up by the in­dustry and sold in the de­veloped world, then we say, “We need you to put back some of the profits in­to the fund.” But it would mostly be from fun­drais­ing.

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
13 hours ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
16 hours ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
18 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
2 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login