Vaccines the ‘backwaters of the pharma industry’ due to low price expectation

Historic low prices and the fact they are administered to healthy people means vaccine development plays second fiddle to biologics, according to a panel of experts.

At the BPI West event in Santa Clara, California earlier this year, Rahul Singhyi, COO of Takeda vaccines, told delegates that vaccines used to be viewed as “the backwaters of the pharma industry.”

Fast forward several months to the BPI Europe event in Vienna, Austria, and Bioprocess Insider asked four more experts within the industry whether vaccines are considered part of corporate social responsibility and, indeed, the ‘the backwaters’ of pharma.

Image: iStock/tupungato

Manuel Carrondo, professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at iBET Portugal, said people have got so used to vaccines having to be reasonably cheap companies often look at them as less profitable.

“And if you look at the fact that most vaccines are given to very young people, then the need for total security, quality, and safety is such that again, they might not be as profitable as some other products. The amount of knowledge that has to go into making vaccines efficacious and safe is not at all trivial,” he added.

He also noted the disparity in funding and focus between vaccines and, for example, a product that may extend the life of a cancer patient for another six months.

“People forget that vaccines are given to healthy people, whereas drugs are given to sick people,” Dan Adams, the co-founder and executive chairman of NextWaveBio said. “So as you can imagine, the safety and efficacy requirements for a vaccine are far more than for drugs.”

Adams, who led Protein Sciences when it became the first firm to receive FDA approval for a recombinant influenza vaccine, also backed up Carrondo’s point that as people are used to paying low prices for universal vaccines it’s difficult to charge a higher price for a more modern product.

WHO and the third world

Dieter Palmberger, senior scientist at Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib), told us that price becomes an even bigger issue when looking to bring vaccines to less economically developed countries.

“The World Health Organization [WHO] will not pay a lot for those,” he said, but the vaccines still need to be as well-manufactured and contaminant-free as possible. “On the one hand we want a perfect vaccine; on the other hand, it needs to be as inexpensive as possible. To find the middle ground of as good and as inexpensive as possible, it is quite difficult in process development.”

Adams added: “WHO has been very critical of the European Union, where countries are working together to buy vaccines with the purpose of pushing prices down. The WHO has warned that prices could be pushed so low that Europe will have no vaccines because no one can make money on them.”

However, there is some hope, said Krishna Prasad, founder at conjugate vaccine firm Citranvi, with some nongovernmental organizations doing a fantastic job of addressing the question.

“Recently the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations [CEPI] has prepared a list of pathogens to show how much cost analysis has been done for each. The costs are still high in terms if you take into account the chances of failure, and that doesn’t even include the cost of research.

“The critical mass is still missing. And the general public is unaware that the cost of developing a vaccine can be over a billion dollars. That needs to be driven home in terms of what it actually takes to develop a vaccine.”

And the full discussion can be viewed here:

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