Research Roundup: New COVID-19 vaccine partnership, "vaccine nationalism," and the future of R&D
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Merck and GHTC member IAVI are joining forces to develop a COVID-19 vaccine candidate based on the rVSV platform, the same one under the hood of the ERVEBO Ebola vaccine approved last year by the Food and Drug Administration. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority announced it will back the project, making it the fifth COVID-19 vaccine candidate in the agency’s portfolio. The rVSV platform typically takes longer to develop than other methods but can lead to a product that creates a robust immune response from a single dose. IAVI has used the rVSV platform in efforts to develop vaccines against HIV, Lassa fever, and Marburg virus.
The vaccine development race could turn into a story of global cooperation or global competition. Unfortunately, the United States and China are increasingly at heads, as both nations’ presidents look to vaccine success at home to soften criticism of their countries’ early response. President Trump has launched Operation Warp Speed to deliver a vaccine for Americans as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping hopes a first-to-market Chinese vaccine could boost ambitions for China to be a 21st century world leader in biopharmaceuticals and serve as form of “vaccine diplomacy.” With a global problem, a global solution is needed—but with the time it takes to manufacture vaccines, a waiting line will inevitably form, raising questions of which countries will get vaccines first. “It's set up to be a massive geopolitical battle,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, “not just around the discovery of the vaccine, but the manufacturing chain — with billions of doses needed, and the challenges of a global vaccination campaign.”
COVID-19 is transforming the biomedical research and development ecosystem and accelerating emerging approaches, including real-time data sharing, drug repurposing, regulatory harmonization, and public-private collaboration, according to the founding partners of a new COVID-19 research consortium. The author points out that long hoped for tools—such as modernized regulatory science, digital medicine technologies, and adaptive clinical trial design—are being used to accelerate approvals of new medicines, diagnostics, and vaccines against COVID-19 and are moving us closer to an imagined future faster than expected.