The War on Disease: The Creation of a Global Vaccine-Development Fund

By Moses Im

Just recently, the Ebola outbreak lead to over 11,000 deaths. Yet, the pandemic also exposed the constant looming threats that affect global health due to the lack of necessary medicines and vaccines. Thus, as the world shook in fear, WHO (World Health Organization) and other supporting countries rushed in to control and stop the disease.

Coincidentally, before the outbreak occurred there were at least seven different vaccines that passed animal testing with promising results. Out of those only one went through further clinical trials before being abandoned due to costs and difficulties in the licensing process. Here, bureaucracy took precedence over safety and health. Due to the pandemic, however, the governments and organizations pushed the research further. Eventually the right vaccine was licensed but it came thousands of lives too late.

This pattern of pharmaceutical profit and insufficient government funding is seen in many diseases considered under the term of the “the valley of death.” For example, Ebola, West Nile, and the SARS virus are all included on this deathly list of diseases. If this reluctance for action continues many people around the globe will become vulnerable to death.

Yet, there is a new hope.

In July 2015 three prominent physicians, Stanley Plotkin, M.D., emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, Adel Mahmoud, M.D., Ph.D, professor in the Molecular Biology Department and Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs at Princeton University, and Jeremy Farrar, M.D., Ph.D, director of the Wellcome Trust, in a published article called for a “global vaccine-development fund.” Their plan requires a $2 billion investment in vaccine research which will target “the valley of death.”Thus, the funds are meant to help vaccines and projects get past preliminary rounds of research and simplify the licensing process. Therefore, the ideology relies on paying large sums upfront and decreasing the costs later down the road. For context, the Ebola crisis alone costed the world about $8 billion. Overall, through their article, Plotkin, Mahmoud, and Farrar called the world to learn to adapt to “the lesson we [can] take from the Ebola crisis.” And it appears the world indeed learned.

The science community responded positively to the article, and, just as the authors hoped, great discussion grew out of this call to action. As a direct result, under the leadership of Director Jeremy Farrar, the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was formed and launched on January 18, 2017. The global company is backed by the European Commission, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, World Economic Forum, and the governments of Norway, Japan, Germany, and India. Organizations like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Johns Hopkins Vaccine Initiative, and many more have joined as well. CEPI have decided to start by targeting Lassa, Nipah and MERS as advised by their scientific advisory board. While CEPI may have been launched with a little less than $500 million, they hope to finish fundraising by the end of this year. Thus, CEPI has created a feeling of hopefulness for the creation of solutions to diseases. The world may soon be rest assured that another crisis like Ebola will not erupt.

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