Developing one vaccine is estimated to cost $200 million and at least 10 years. The toughest challenges, however, often lie in the timing and delivery. With the recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika, it was clear that communities can’t afford a decade for inoculation. And even if development is accelerated, significant innovation would be needed to streamline the delivery to millions of people in a short amount of time to fully curtail an epidemic.
In 2018, innovators will be upgrading the entire vaccine infrastructure to support the rapid development of new vaccines (a concept that was #1 on the Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2015), as well as breaking ground on new mechanisms to deliver new and existing vaccines to vast populations.
As far as new development, companies are finding faster ways to develop influenza vaccines using tobacco plants, insects, and nanoparticle systems, rather than relying on chicken eggs to incubate the virus. These new methods hold the promise to save millions of dollars in development costs.
When it comes to delivery and shelf life, innovators are also perfecting the use of freeze drying of vaccines which can allow shipment of more products to areas where they’re needed most. The technique also allows vaccines more time to be stored and delivered further before being deemed unusable, which is all-too-often the fate of many vaccines.
At the point-of-care, innovators are also thinking outside the syringe. The rotavirus vaccine has been on the market since 2006, however it is estimated that 215,000 young children die each year around the world, due in part to an obvious fact of life: children (and parents) do not like vaccines. This past year an oral form of the rotavirus vaccine announced positive Phase III results. Edible vaccines, mucosally delivered vaccines, intranasal vaccines, and vaccine chips are also all under development for other viruses. In 2018, a band-aid sized patch for the flu vaccine is expected to be marketed to kids and adults alike.
These new ways of developing, shipping, storing, and vaccinating are being swiftly connected to stave off current and future diseases and epidemics. With over 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths in the last 20 years that could have been saved by existing vaccines in the US alone, these new platforms are in a position to keep individuals and entire nations healthier than ever.