When G8 leaders meet in early July in Scotland, international health and development will be high on the agenda, and AIDS
vaccines likely will be recognized once again as a global priority. Growing political support for AIDS vaccine research is
vitally important, but we also know its ultimate impact will be limited unless the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries
become more energetically engaged.
In the last three decades, no vaccine has been successfully developed outside of the industrial sector. That's because private-sector
vaccine makers have the people, experience, and facilities that are crucial to product development, and that do not typically
exist in non-profit, academic, or government institutions. Quite simply, today's greatest global health research challenge—finding
a vaccine that can prevent AIDS—will not be met unless we can harness the expertise and resources of pharma and biotech manufacturers
Several companies have made important contributions to AIDS vaccine research, but few industry programs represent the kind
of full-scale, intensive efforts that are needed. A recent IAVI survey of AIDS vaccine R&D spending shows that industry accounted
for less than 15 percent of the roughly $650 million spent globally last year. The reasons why are no secret: The science
of AIDS vaccines is daunting, the financial investments required are substantial and long term, and the market is far from
certain. But there is no benefit in wringing our hands over these realities. We need to identify realistic opportunities for
expanded industry involvement.
Share experience New resources for AIDS vaccine research from the public and philanthropic sectors, and growing interest among both industrial
and middle-income countries, means that there are more opportunities for industry to share its expertise. Organizations are
ready to help leverage private-sector expertise and have demonstrated successful mechanisms of partnerships with industry
that are win-win. IAVI, for example, partners and provides financing to Seattle-based Targeted Genetics to further develop
vaccine candidates and advance them in clinical trials. In exchange, Targeted Genetics maintains intellectual property rights
to the vaccine, but agrees—if the vaccine obtains regulatory approval—to sell it at a reasonable price in the developing world.
IAVI also has an agreement with Crucell, a Dutch biotech company, whereby the company will develop its AdVac vectors for use
in IAVI's AIDS vaccine development program.
The AIDS vaccine field needs access to critical industry functions such as process development, medicinal chemistry, and structural
biology. Industry should offer, with appropriate incentives, greater access to chemical or biologic entities that show promise
and can be licensed for development as AIDS vaccines. IAVI and many of its partners are able to compensate companies for their
Collaborative alliances Industry can develop collaborative relationships with smaller biotechs in industrialized or developing countries as part
of broader alliances on product development or manufacture. It's hard to put a value on industry know-how in vaccine design
and development, but companies can make an enormous contribution by agreeing to allow staff to participate in ways that assist
Appropriate incentives Industry also can help IAVI and other organizations define a policy research and advocacy agenda that will generate the appropriate
incentives and protections that industry says it needs to expand its investments in AIDS vaccine research. For example, there
is growing international support for the creation of advance purchase commitments for priority vaccines and medicines, and
the concept is likely to be discussed at the G8 summit next month. However, companies can help design advanced purchase commitments
that will truly be useful to industry. Pharma also can partner with health advocates to support needed funding, incentives,
procurement guarantees, and liability protections from governments to promote private-sector investment in research on the
diseases of the developing world.
The humanitarian imperative of finding an AIDS vaccine means every sector involved in research, including industry, has to
think differently about how we work together. Increased leadership from the pharma industry, matched with growing public commitment,
can significantly accelerate the search for an AIDS vaccine. However, without more industry expertise injected into the effort,
the search for a vaccine will be too slow. With greater partnership between industry, government and academia, there is every
reason to expect that the development of an effective AIDS vaccine will be achieved, and that the greatest disease threat
of our time will be conquered through a new model of research collaboration.
Seth Berkley, MD is president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. He can be reached at email@example.com