Boom in Vaccine Research Could Change Lives

12:08 AM, Nov 20, 2009   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- The rush for this year's H1N1 vaccine may be masking an even more consequential story about vaccines: that vaccine research has increased markedly in recent years and is addressing diseases that are spread in ways other than infection.

"What's happened is very exciting. What's happened is a perfect storm of events that has made it very attractive for both large multi national pharmaceutical companies, small bio-tech firms, and even non-profits to take on vaccines in a serious way," said Dr. Peter Hotez, the president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

The economics have changed, making it easier to make money on vaccines.

"Suddenly vaccines have become very attractive. Whereas five or six years ago a number of vaccine companies were on the verge of getting out of vaccines or large companies that had vaccine subsidiaries were thinking of leaving vaccines, now it's becoming very attractive to go into vaccines," Hotez told 9NEWS NOW.

"The reasons are...the drying up of the traditional small molecule drug pipeline (and) the new technologies that have become available to make vaccines more efficient.

So, these include new cell culture technologies and genomics, the whole field of genomics that has made it possible to identify new vaccine antigens and the fact that it has been possible now to charge more than pennies a dose for new vaccines that have come on line. So, you can charge tens of dollars, or hundreds of dollars for a new vaccine in the United States and Europe whereas you couldn't do that before," Hotez said.

"Now we're looking at vaccines not only for traditional infectious diseases or even neglected diseases, but for chronic conditions that are unrelated to infectious agents that would occur almost anywhere in the world. So, things like vaccines for heart disease, vaccines for cancer, actually making cancer vaccines,vaccines for Alzheimer's Disease, vaccines for allergies, all of these things are possible with the new technologies," Hotez said.

Much of the work is in preliminary stages, but the industry is optimistic the research will pay off. Analysts predict vaccine sales will double within three years.

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