The Great Race for Vaccination Innovation


As the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said, “Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future.”
Medicine is ever-evolving, and this is especially true as it relates to vaccines. Vaccination research continues to advance the effectiveness of current vaccines and address new threatening viruses. In fact, advancements to the flu, HIV and the Zika virus are just a few that made headlines in 2016.

The Flu: Building on the Past

Since the first influenza vaccine in the US was licensed for public distribution in 1945, great strides have been made by researchers, public health officials, and primary care providers to promote vaccinations and reduce the number of individuals hospitalized with the flu each year. The flu vaccine is an inactivated influenza virus (IIV) otherwise known as a “dead virus” that is developed annually to address the changing viruses. However, the annual flu vaccine might become a thing of the past. Scientists at Sanofi Pasteur are working on a next-generation vaccine that is designed to be a longer-acting universal flu vaccine. By reengineering hemagglutinin, the most significant viral protein, they believe a new vaccine can be developed that will offer years of protection against multiple flu strains.

HIV: Long-Awaited Progress

HIV is a virus resulting in HIV infection and AIDS, a disease that has claimed nearly 41 million around the world, and has infected nearly 35 million others. While the first case in the US was reported in 1981, the only medical developments have been medicines to treat those infected with HIV, not prevent transmission of the disease. A new team hopes to challenge this statistic, however, with the development of a HIV vaccine that has passed phase I trials and has been approved by the FDA; the vaccine will move to phase II trials in 2017. The HIV vaccine (SAV001) was developed as an inactive virus just like the flu vaccine, and it was tested on HIV positive individuals. Results of the phase I trial demonstrated “pre- existing antibodies against HIV” within HIV positive individuals, a promising indication that it will be an effective vaccination down the line.

Zika: Responding to an Epidemic

Although the Zika virus was identified decades ago, it was only in 2015 that it became a major public health concern when a link was drawn between Zika and Guillian-Barré syndrome and cognitive abnormalities like microcephaly in newborns. Zika, like HIV, does not yet have a vaccination, but researchers are confident they will have a vaccine available to the public as early as 2018.

Confidence in this rapid timeline exists due to a number of reasons. Zika is in the same family of viruses that already have vaccines, and the adult immune system has been able to put up a fight against Zika on its own, giving researchers some background in their development. The quick output can also be attributed to the fact that many labs are vying to develop the first vaccine. With multiple labs testing different approaches, extensive funding, and substantial potential profits, the development of a Zika vaccine appears imminent, and hopefully not too far on the horizon.

As diseases are never-ending, so too is the need to innovate. With these burgeoning stories of discovery, we can be hopeful that researchers will continue to make breakthroughs in the production of the vaccines we have and the vaccines that will soon be discovered.