After COVID-19, we must rethink how we find and produce new drugs

drugs__

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: André Loesekrug-Pietri, Chairman, Joint European Disruptive Initiative & Thomas Hermans, Programme Manager, JEDI Covid19 GrandChallenge, and Professor, University of Strasbourg


  • How we produce and distribute any vaccine is an issue we need to address.
  • The nature of the vaccine manufacturing process promotes inequality in who benefits and when.
  • We must now be creative and experimental today to ensure we are prepared for the pandemics of the future.

As the race for a COVID-19 vaccine continues, the Billion Molecules Against COVID-19 Global GrandChallenge – organised by the Joint European Disruptive Initiative (JEDI) – kicked off on 4 May. At the same time, the European Union – in cooperation with France, Germany, the UK, Norway and Saudi Arabia – launched a massive fundraising marathon. Its purpose is twofold: firstly to accelerate the development and deployment of tests, treatments and vaccines, and secondly to ensure that as many players as possible undertake to make them accessible to all countries. And the EU is thinking big money, as always: it has raised no less than €7.5 billion ($8.3 billion) in initial funding.

Although the ambition of this EU fundraising is laudable, the issue of worldwide distribution of the vaccine still needs to be addressed. Pharma players capable of producing massive numbers of doses are rare. In recent weeks, partnerships have multiplied between large laboratories to increase their production capacities: Moderna and Lonza Group aim for a billion doses per year, while AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford hope to be able to supply 100 million doses before the end of the year. The American Inovio Pharmaceuticals and the German Richter-Helm Biologics have joined forces for the same purpose, as well as the arch-rivals Sanofi (French) and GlaxoSmithKline (English).

 

More than just the question of when a vaccine will be discovered – and the German Minister of Health poured cold water on hopes this could happen anytime soon – the question of which laboratory will discover it, the quantity of doses that can be produced and their accessibility are eminently strategic and a major challenge for humanity. The challenge of vaccination is twofold: in addition to protecting citizens, it also offers the hope of returning economies to normal without fear of a ‘second wave’.

However, if tests conducted by American laboratories prove conclusive, it is likely that the American population will be heavily prioritized. And what is already problematic for Europe is likely to prove disastrous for countries that have neither the infrastructure, the financial means, nor the manpower of Western countries. The vaccine-manufacturing process is slow and expensive, and as such it automatically promotes inequality.

Tackling this challenge requires collective action to ensure massive production and equitable distribution. Besides the question of financing, on which the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Bank are actively working, transforming production processes to make them more efficient is also crucial. Process intensification is a possible approach; this would aim to minimize the equipment and space used, thus reducing both its costs and its risks and potentially enabling a vaccine to be produced anywhere in the world on a distributed basis.

Several players have already taken this process intensification route, such as the Belgian company Univercells and the Dutch firm Batavia. So have pharmaceutical companies such as Janssen and Merck, as well as the technology and service provider Cytiva. But obstacles remain numerous, and it is a scientific and industrial frontier that we must address with energy and determination.

If the European Union wishes to live up to the challenge it has launched, funding the design and production of vaccines and treatments will not be not enough. Let us use this historic and planetary crisis to imagine solutions that are both scientifically robust and radically new. We can develop and produce solutions through distributed production, 3D printing. We need to bring together disciplines and new capabilities brought by high-performance computing, machine learning and molecular biology to screen billions of molecules like the JEDI COVID-19 GrandChallenge. We need to fast-track drug discovery by having even better-qualified compounds enter clinical trials, compounds that could be cross-correlated by teams from across the globe. We need to tap into collective intelligence, be creative, experimental, and willing to push the limits of science and technology – because it is as much the sovereignty of each nation, as well the equality of access to care throughout the world, which are at stake.

Indeed, with the coronavirus monopolizing our attention, it would be absurd not to prepare today for the epidemics of tomorrow. The number of pathogens with pandemic potential are many, and some have much higher mortality rates than the coronavirus. To get out of the current tragedy and not return to the same state of affairs when the next major disease strikes, we must take heed of the French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry’s call to Europeans: “Well, what are you going to do? What are you going to do today?”

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

MEPs approve boost to workers’ rights in the gig economy

Four million Syrian children have only known war since birth: UNICEF

Statement by the European Commission following the first meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee

This is how drones and other ‘tradetech’ are transforming international trade

Understanding of LGBT realities ‘non-existent’ in most countries, says UN expert

Eurozone set to abandon monetary and incomes austerity and adopt growth friendly policies

Nauru President warns of possible climate change ‘economic Armageddon’

Sweden has invented a word to encourage people not to fly. And it’s working

Commission offers discount on fines to banks for competition infringements

Statement on the Code of Practice against disinformation: Commission asks online platforms to provide more details on progress made

Greenpeace’s saints and sinners in the tech world

UN genocide adviser welcomes historic conviction of former Khmer Rouge leaders

The different ways of care: Is there a general rule to follow?

Victims of terrorism remembered

UN welcomes ‘record’ Brussels conference pledge of nearly $7 billion to support Syrians

Thursday’s Daily Brief: Poverty report reveals ‘vast inequalities’, measles compounds DRC Ebola woes, Guterres visits Mozambique, Bangladesh update, freedom of expression online

Here’s how the US can get the best out of 5G

Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon should be free to earn a living

Zeid calls for ICC probe into Myanmar Rohingya crisis

COP21 Breaking News: China has promised to cut emissions from its coal power plants by 60% by 2020

Human rights breaches in Iran, Egypt and Tanzania

FROM THE FIELD: Argentina Preserving Pristine Forests

WHO and IFMSA as transcendent pillars for world improvement

GSMA Mobile 360 – Africa on 16-18 July 2019, in association with The European Sting

Mergers: Commission approves acquisition of Nets’ account-to-account payment business by Mastercard, subject to conditions

Africa Forum aims to boost business, reduce costs, help countries trade out of poverty

United States: UN human rights office welcomes California moratorium on death penalty

‘Everyone must be on board’ for peace in Central African Republic: UN’s Lacroix

This is why retail is such a sore point in India-US trade relations

Using the quarantine to your advantage

Energy: EU priority projects should be aligned with 2050 climate objectives

World response to AIDS epidemic at a ‘critical juncture’

Remarks by Commissioner Lenarčič on the deployment of EU Medical Teams to Italy

A biodiversity scientist explains the problem with our neat lawns

Revamp collective bargaining to prevent rising labour market inequalities in rapidly changing world of work

Why trust and technology go hand-in-hand

UN expresses concern following wave of street protests in Iraq and elsewhere

How smart farming is helping Brazil feed the world

How Asia could be the winner in the US and China’s Belt and Road race

How to future-proof India’s economy

COVID-19: EU co-finances the delivery of more protective equipment to China

Busting the myths about coronavirus

Artificial intelligence: Commission takes forward its work on ethics guidelines

COP21 Breaking News_04 December: Launch of CREWS, climate risk & early warning systems

The EU Commission predicts a decimated growth in the next years

Data show EU Economy in a stubbornly subdued state

It’s 100 years since US women got the right to vote, but how has gender equality changed?

Climate emergency: City mayors are ‘world’s first responders’, says UN chief

UN chief calls for ‘immediate end’ to escalation of fighting in southwestern Syria, as thousands are displaced

The reason the world showed limited empathy to the Orlando victims

Rights defenders jailed in Bahrain and UAE should be released unconditionally, UN urges

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “There is a communication issue (about China) which markets don’t like” Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of IMF stresses from Davos

Banking on sunshine: world added far more solar than fossil fuel power generating capacity in 2017

Across Europe, people are struggling to make ends meet. We need a common response immediately.

Eurozone: Inflation plunge to 0.4% in July may trigger cataclysmic developments

As children in Ebola-affected areas of DR Congo head back to school, UNICEF ramps up support

Silicon Valley can do more to achieve the #GlobalGoals

Asia-Pacific ‘regional parliament’ underway to advance equality, empowerment, for more than four billion citizens

Mali: Two peacekeepers dead after dawn attack, several injured – UN Mission

No patents on naturally obtained plants and seeds

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s