[Ip-health] Stat: Major drug makers haven’t stepped up to manufacture NIH coronavirus vaccine, top U.S. health official says

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Feb 11 23:23:53 PST 2020


Major drug makers haven’t stepped up to manufacture NIH coronavirus
vaccine, top U.S. health official says
FEBRUARY 11, 2020

WASHINGTON — No major pharmaceutical company has come forward to say it
would manufacture a vaccine for the novel coronavirus currently being
developed by the National Institutes of Health, a top U.S. official
acknowledged Tuesday, a reality that he called “very difficult and very

The comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases, highlight how challenging it could be to
translate the NIH’s work, being undertaken in partnership with the biotech
company Moderna Therapeutics, into a vaccine that could be marketed. Fauci
described the circumstances as challenging. “Companies that have the skill
to be able to do it are not going to just sit around and have a warm
facility, ready to go for when you need it,” Fauci said, speaking on a
panel Tuesday hosted by the Aspen Institute and moderated by STAT’s Helen

Fauci said it would be at least a year before a coronavirus vaccine would
be available. However, that timeline assumes a large pharmaceutical
manufacturer does step up to help make the product.

The vaccine being developed by the NIH and Moderna uses mRNA technology and
is being funded by the Oslo, Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic
Preparedness Innovations. CEPI is funding three other efforts to develop a
vaccine for the novel coronavirus. None of those partners, however, have
the kind of commercial facilities that major pharmaceutical makers have and
that would be capable of making the product in bulk.

Johnson & Johnson has announced it is interested in developing its own
coronavirus vaccine. On Tuesday, the company’s vaccine division, Janssen,
said it would partner with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development
Authority, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services to
develop that vaccine.

In a statement, the agency’s director, Rick Bright, said “speed is crucial
to saving lives and reducing further spread of the virus. Janssen is a
proven partner with a flexible, rapid, vaccine platform.”

Major drug makers, including Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, have stepped in to
manufacture vaccines for previous public health emergencies. The vaccine
against Ebola recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration and
European regulators was manufactured by Merck.

At other times, however, companies have responded in public health crises
to develop vaccines, only to have those crises fade and to be left with the
enormous sunk costs of having to develop products for which there was no
longer a market.

“When we were doing this with Ebola, it was a major vaccine company that
got burned who’s now pulling out of that,” Fauci added, without naming the
company. “It is going to be a challenge to be able to get a major company
to do that.”

Speaking alongside Fauci at the event was Ron Klain, who served as Ebola
czar in the Obama administration and who echoed concerns that drug makers
may be wary of getting involved again.

“I don’t work for the companies, I’m not like a drug company fan,” Klain
said, “but there’s no question that a lot of them lost a lot of money
trying to produce an Ebola vaccine.”

Nicholas Florko is a Washington correspondent for STAT, reporting on the
the intersection of politics and health policy. He is the author the
newsletter "D.C. Diagnosis."

nicholas.florko at statnews.com

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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