An Insider Look at Vaccines: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
The COVID-19 pandemic has put vaccines in the spotlight. The pandemic has given the industry a considerable boost, and with lessons learned during the development and roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine, the industry is now armed with new technologies and is establishing population immunity.
To understand how the vaccine industry has changed over the last 20 years, where we are today, and what the future looks like, we spoke to Bernd Schollmeier, Vice President of Global Market Access Vaccines at Alira Health, and a vaccine expert with more than 30 years of experience in the field.
What is the difference between the pre-pandemic vaccine world and the vaccine world today?
For the last 40 years, there’s been an interesting dynamic in the vaccine world. From the 1980s through 2000, we saw 20 busy years. However, since then there have not been a lot of innovations in the vaccines field, except for HPV. There are several reasons for this lack of innovation. First, costs. The production process of vaccines is both complicated and expensive, and it may take up to two years to produce just a single dose of vaccine which has made vaccines an unattractive investment.
Secondly, the industry’s regulatory landscape is very challenging. Vaccines are the best-controlled medicines in the world—in order to get a vaccine on the market, a producer needs to carry out considerably more extensive trials compared to other medicines.
For these reasons, vaccines have not been seen as attractive ventures for pharmaceutical companies for a while. Some even gave up their activities or sold their vaccine portfolios. However, outbreaks like EBOLA, MERS, and SARS Cov1 showed that the new vaccines will be needed in the future. This brings us where we are today—in a renaissance of vaccines—and it’s in full swing. And in our pandemic world, the spotlight is once again on vaccines.
What are the learnings from the pandemic?
The vaccine world has learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ve also gotten some clear learnings for the world at large, including:
- There is a need for better education and awareness around vaccines for the global population—specifically that vaccines are effective and safe.
- Reaching a certain vaccination rate is critical—and a specific focus on closing the gap around non-vaccinated people is necessary to achieving this goal.
- Countries need to prioritize local production for medical equipment, like masks and disinfectants, so they’re prepared for pandemics of any kind that may disrupt the supply chain.
- Implementation of an early warning system that emphasizes collaboration and transparency across both industry and government players is crucial.
- We need to continue to explore existing techniques for novel applications like mRNA, work on more vaccines, and keep expanding on the existing progress in science.
What are the biggest challenges the vaccine industry is currently facing?
Nature never stops—we will see mutations of existing germs; viruses and bacteria will continue to mutate. We will see new pathogens on the horizon—and we will also see great progress in universal flu vaccines and immunization against upcoming pathogens like Zika or Chikungunya Virus. Additionally, global warming and climate change are already changing the landscape of endemic diseases, and this should encourage companies to look closely at the vaccine industry.
How are the dynamics in the vaccine world after this growth from the pandemic?
What we are learning now during the pandemic will become our best asset for similar situations in the future.
I can also imagine new follow-up vaccines developed on the mRNA platforms, such as Influenza, RSV, and the combination of different vaccines. We are also seeing traction on other technologies, such as whole-cell vaccines currently in development and will be complementary to the existing technologies.
Why did Alira Health decide to enter the world of vaccines?
We are seeing a lot of traction in the industry, as well as interest in vaccine production. To support companies in a challenging payer environment, we created a dedicated vaccine division in our Global Market Access department to provide a variety of solutions that maximize patient access and the gross-to-net value of the product across the full product lifecycle.
About Bernd Schollmeier, Vice President of Global Market Access Vaccines
Bernd brings over 30 years of vaccine experience in both consulting and the pharmaceutical industry to his role at Alira Health. His previous roles include sales, marketing, policy, patient engagement, corporate communications, and market access positions at several local, national, and global vaccine industry players. He’s been responsible for a range of global pricing and market access initiatives for vaccines—delivering a range of solutions across development and strategic market access considerations for trial design to value demonstration in P&R negotiations as well as commercialization strategies. Bernd holds an MSc in Economics.