What Are the R&D and Business Challenges Facing the Vaccine Market?

Although the market is growing, vaccine makers face a variety of technical, research, and business challenges.

During his presentation on the final day of the 2010 World Vaccine Congress in Lyon, France, Jeffrey Almond, Vice President, Discovery and External Research and Development, Sanofi Pasteur, gave an overview of what he thinks R&D chiefs at pharmaceutical companies really want. He said that pharma R&D chiefs want growth in two directions: sales and in profitability. “We are seeing not only pressures to expand to new markets and develop new products but also downward pressures in costs, particularly in manufacturing costs,” he said.

Almond said that innovations in the industry since the 1990s, fuelled by better products and vaccines, could grow the market to well above 23 billion Euro by 2017. Innovation will continue to play a significant role in this growth, as improvements are made to existing vaccines and combinations and vaccines that are currently in development (eg, Dengue, C.difficile, and Staph A) move to market. “The pressure is on R&D for new vaccines and this leads to more work in discovery, proof of concept, and so on,” said Almond. Vaccines are now seen as strategic assets for many major pharma companies. In 2009, five companies (GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi Pasteur, Merck, Pfizer and Novartis) dominated the vaccine market, compared to 2005 when only three of the top 10 pharma companies had a presence in vaccines. Almond said that in 2010, “we are seeing a significant movement in the market, with three new companies entering the vaccines field by acquisition or joint ventures: Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Abbott Laboratories.”

There are now vaccines against 20 diseases, including viral vaccines (eg, influenza, mumps, Japanese encephalitis, chicken pox) and bacterial vaccines (eg, diphtheria, cholera, tuberculosis, pneumococcal infections). Almond said there are approximately 70 infectious diseases vaccine targets, of which 25 have already been developed and more than 40 that remain to be developed. However, he cautioned that there are several technical challenges in to be overcome in the areas of antigenic diversity (HIV, HCV, rhinoviruses), pathogen biology (Chlamydia, HSV), limited natural immunity (HIV, Chlamydia), and immunopathology (SARS, RSV, Dengue).

Almond said that Sanofi Pasteur is committed to continuing vaccine research and development and identifying new external opportunities outside Europe and North America. He said that the company will initiate and monitor collaborations with external groups, including academic institutions, research institutes, biotechnology companies, and larger vaccine and pharmaceutical companies; provide support via collaboration to teams responsible for exploratory and late-stage projects, and identify evolving technologies that are relevant to the company’s internal needs and strategic vision.

Key questions for Sanofi and the vaccine market going forward:

  • Where are the major emerging growth indications in the vaccines market over the next five years?
  • What are the most promising candidate vaccines currently in clinical development?
  • How are corporate R&D strategies aligning with a balance of internal and external projects?
  • How are pressures to change the business model from research-driven to industrial companies affecting decision making?