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 Milestones

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

Make this the year of ‘transformative solutions’ to avert disastrous climate change: UN Deputy Chief

Women in medical leadership: future perspectives of medicine

Further reforms in Sweden can drive growth, competitiveness and social cohesion

Robot inventors are on the rise. But are they welcomed by the patent system?

Brazilian officer a ‘stellar example’ of why more women are needed in UN peacekeeping

Commissioner McGuinness announces proposed way forward for central clearing

Syria: Commissioner Lenarčič visits Turkish border and calls for renewal of UN cross-border resolution

4 principles for securing the digital identity ecosystem

UN chief praises New Zealand premier’s ‘admirable’ response to Christchurch attacks

Why 2020 is a turning point for cybersecurity

COVID-19 tests rely on bacteria discovered in a natural pool in the 1960s – and it’s not the only slice of nature essential to medicine

Migration: Commission refers HUNGARY to the Court of Justice of the European Union over its failure to comply with Court judgment

Q&A: A on the EU COVID-19 certificate

Working with millennials, leaders say humility works better than bossing around

How Abu Dhabi found a way to grow vegetables in 40-degree heat

Russia and the EU ‘trade’ natural gas supplies and commercial concessions in and out of Ukraine

Eurozone’s central bank leadership prepares for shoddier prospects

Workplace bullies could now go to jail in South Korea

Biggest ever UN aid delivery in Syria provides relief to desperate civilians

Negotiations on new EU collective redress rules to begin

Why we are using these custom-built drones to collect whale snot

For video game addiction, now read official ‘gaming disorder’: World Health Organization

Ebola cases rising in DR Congo, but UN health agency cites progress in community trust-building

Antibiotics are contaminating the world’s rivers

British PM May’s Brexit proposal remains obscure while her government unravels

The EU Parliament blasts the Council about the tax dealings of the wealthy

5 lessons from Africa on how drones could transform medical supply chains

More people now plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine than in December

Turkey: Commission continues humanitarian support for refugees

Only one in five countries has a healthcare strategy to deal with climate change

Africa must use tech to chase corruption out of the shadows

Mergers: Commission approves Assa Abloy’s acquisition of Agta Record, subject to conditions

World’s human rights watchdog spotlights Afghanistan, Yemen and 12 others: Here’s the scoop

US-China trade war: Washington now wants control of the renminbi-yuan

ECB: Growth measures even before the German elections

Z, V or ‘Nike swoosh’ – what shape will the COVID-19 recession take?

Cultural diversity can drive economies. Here are lessons from India and South Asia

EU Member States test their cybersecurity preparedness for free and fair EU elections

This is how music festivals are tackling plastic waste

Malta: Human rights experts call for justice in case of murdered journalist

3 things to know about women in STEM

Q and A: This is how stakeholder capitalism can help heal the planet

10 months were not enough for the EU to save the environment but 2 days are

These are the top 10 emerging technologies of 2019

Why EU’s working and unemployed millions remain uncertain or even desperate about their future

Europe again the black sheep at the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors

FROM THE FIELD: Changing world, changing families

The relationship between Dengue and the rainfall in Boa Vista, Brazil

EU, Canada and China co-host international meeting on climate cooperation and a sustainable economic recovery

Why is black plastic packaging so hard to recycle?

Raising the Scope of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in Vulnerable Populations

Companies can help solve water scarcity. Here’s how

A new bioeconomy strategy for a sustainable Europe

Giving humanitarian help to migrants should not be a crime, according to the EP

European Solidarity Corps: three years on

Marriage equality boosted employment of both partners in US gay and lesbian couples

The West and Russia accomplished the dismembering and the economic destruction of Ukraine

State aid: Commission approves €1.4 billion Swedish scheme to support uncovered fixed costs of companies affected by coronavirus outbreak

Gaza: deadly violence continues to escalate, top UN officials work to restore calm

EU food watchdog: more transparency, better risk prevention

More Stings?

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

%d bloggers like this: