The Speed of Covid Vaccine Development is an Exception, Not the New Norm
(Thursday, June 2, 2022)
It took about 11 months from the beginning of the world-wide spread of Covid-19, in Jan 2020, to getting available an exceptionally effective vaccine to it. But this breakneck speed of development is an exception and should not be expected to be repeated for all other diseases and infections. The conventional wisdom of needing about 10 years to convert a discovery to a treatment still hold true for most cases. The Covid vaccine development was aided by the culmination of several factors such as the exceptionally rapid air-borne spread with very high mortality, creating a military grade emergency, leading to the availability of practically unlimited resources for the development of vaccines and treatments, and the sheer good luck of finding a never before clinically tested new technology to be so effective against the virus. This is an atypical case. Most infectious diseases ever known prior to Covid-19, spread far more slowly, from contact with body fluids, making them easier to control. The causative factors for non-infectious diseases such as cancers are poorly understood and the resources and motivation to rapidly develop treatments does not exist. In the US, more than half of the new drugs approved each year are for rare diseases, also called orphan diseases, which cannot create the kind of global public support for treatment as seen for Covid-19. For diseases that affect the masses such a cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, wounds, mental health, and allergies, there are numerous standard-of-care treatments and/or management options available. Many of the experimental treatments fail in the Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials and a few even at late stages. The success of the mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 is an anomaly. Even these products had failed previously when tested for other indications. The Covid-19 pandemic showed that an extreme global emergency can motivate ultrafast resolutions, but we also need the luck of finding good solutions. It took much longer to develop an effective treatment for the infection, and we don’t have a treatment for the long-term disease. We are fortunate to talk about the Covid-19 pandemic in past tense mere 30 months from its beginning. But it would hard, if not impossible, to replicate that speed for other diseases. The developers of mRNA vaccines are already embarked on efforts to develop vaccines for other infectious and non-infectious diseases, but to expect them to churn out new treatments every year, the way they did for Covid-19, would be unrealistic and probably unfair.
Dr. Mukesh Kumar
Founder & CEO, FDAMap
Linkedin: Mukesh Kumar, PhD, RAC