Deadly infectious diseases that can attack without warning and spread quickly often leave drug manufacturers scrambling to develop new vaccines. When viruses such as SARS, H1N1, West Nile, Zika, and Ebola became public health emergencies in recent years, major vaccine producers set their profit-making activities aside to address the situation. But now, according to the news site STAT, many pharmaceutical companies say they can no longer do so.
Vaccine manufacturers who race to respond to crises are forced to reallocate resources and disrupt daily operations for an endeavor that will likely cost them much in the long-run. The process to develop new drugs is expensive and slow. Often companies find that by the time they can get a new medication ready the demand no longer exists.
One company, GSK was burned twice. In 2009 the company raced to produce a vaccine for the H1N1 flu epidemic, but when it finished the vaccine the outbreak slowed, public fear calmed, and many countries refused to take or pay for the vaccines they had ordered. Novartis experienced the same difficulty and has since ended its vaccine operation.
GSK also responded during the recent Ebola crisis but had to shelve the experimental vaccine it developed. Rip Ballou, head of GSK’s research and development center for global vaccines, told STAT the company does not want to turn down pleas for help in an emergency, but the way the organization responded in the past is no longer sustainable.
Russia and China are the only countries that have developed licensed Ebola vaccines. It looks as though no U.S.-manufactured Ebola vaccines will make it through the rigorous licensing process before 2019, STAT reported. —J.B.