Why Are Companies Still “Developing” New Covid Vaccines?
(Thursday, April 28, 2022)
As of this week, there are still 119 Covid vaccines being tested in clinical trials with about 50 in late-stage clinical trials and more than 75 in preclinical testing. It would be mind-boggling for anyone to understand the rationale for developing these new vaccines and even harder to imagine the hardship the developers must face to complete these programs. There are 10 vaccines available across the globe with very high effectiveness in reducing the incidence of serious disease and hospitalizations. Although infection rates have persisted, most people seem to avoid the harsh consequences of the infection. Also, vaccination rates in many populations have approached greater than 60-70% on average and closer to 80-90% in major metropolitan areas. That along with the people who have been naturally exposed to the infection has made recruitment of naïve populations an impossibility. There could be three reasons why most developers have not abandoned their vaccine programs. First, many of the vaccine programs were publicly funded with grants and other non-commercial sources, allocated prior to the approval of the Covid vaccines in late 2020 and early 2021. In the first year of the pandemic government and other sources poured enormous funds to develop vaccines. These funds, once released, are hard to claw back. The developers hence can keep the programs running, even if the pace of the clinical trials has almost grounded to a halt. It is hard to imagine but it is still only 2 years since the start of the pandemic and a little more than a year since the first vaccine became available. In the Grant world, that’s a very small fraction of time. Second, many of these vaccine programs are looking to fill niche demands such as vaccinating poor countries that were left behind with the wealthy countries hogging the entire supply chain for the approved vaccines. Many programs are also adapting to newer strains of the virus and looking to possibly provide back-up vaccines should the world end-up with long-term repeat vaccination plans such as annual Covid vaccine boosters like that for flu. Although it may be a very long shot for almost all the vaccines currently in development, the hope likely keeps the programs alive, at least for now. Third, several vaccine programs look to test the core technology for vaccination that may be harnessed for future infections or other infections for which effective vaccinations don’t exist. For example, the last epidemic of an infectious disease was that for the HIV/AIDS patients for which there is still no vaccine. Those areas of vaccine development are still open and any of the new vaccines in development could, theoretically, fill that demand. Wishful thinking? May be. But hope is the most additive drug, and hope is keeping the Covid vaccine development programs alive, for now. That said, the time is running out for these vaccines in development. We should see most of these programs perish when the remaining funds dry out.
Dr. Mukesh Kumar
Founder & CEO, FDAMap
Linkedin: Mukesh Kumar, PhD, RAC