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The economics of Ebola vaccine production

05 February 2015 Mark Hollis

In the historic surroundings of the UK Houses of Parliament a group of leading vaccine experts and representatives of the pharmaceutical industry gathered last month to discuss the economics of Ebola vaccine production. Despite a vaccine not yet being approved, attention is rapidly turning to the means by which an Ebola vaccine could be put into the market.

This is not a simple step and many of the experts and members of the audience raised a number of issues including the need to strengthen healthcare systems to handle the rollout of a vaccine, guaranteeing patient safety in expedited clinical trials, and gathering political will behind vaccination efforts - all of these being barriers that must be overcome.

The debate also naturally turned to the issue of why Ebola vaccine development has taken so long, considering that the virus was first discovered in 1976. The pharmaceutical companies roundly rejected the notion that development of vaccines was slow because Ebola is a disease affecting predominantly poor communities, instead suggesting either that the science was not there yet or that the number of patients suffering from Ebola was so low that this need was dwarfed by the need for treatments for other diseases.

This kind of meetings frequently attract the all too familiar haggle of pharma bashers and this meeting was not short of those quick to unfairly blame the pharmaceutical industry for many different healthcare ills. Alongside the "every life matters" brigade, one member of the Lords present at the meeting hounded the panel asking "who will care for the orphans" - perhaps not realising the government minister had already left, or assuming it was the pharma industry's job to also provide care?

What the under-secretary of State for International Development who attended the meeting (so briefly you could have blinked and missed her), didn't see was the number of people calling for assistance for the pharmaceutical industry in Africa. The fact that the minister barely attended the meeting, read from a preprepared speech full of government rhetoric, and dashed off before many questions could be asked I view as symptomatic of the government's apathy towards the pharmaceutical industry in Africa. You may consider me harsh, but keep in mind that the meeting had many of THE leading experts in this field in one room. To me the UK government is far behind their French counterparts who sent a large delegation to the African Pharmaceutical Summit I visited in 2013 with the aim of understanding how supporting the pharmaceutical industry may be a development tool. So whilst the UK government ponders the effectiveness of bed nets, the French development agency is one step further considering how African pharmaceutical companies can develop drugs to tackle diseases caused by a lack of bed nets. With or without the support of governments, drug development will continue; however, governments could aid this. In my mind, it's time the UK government took the issue of African Pharmaceutical Industry development seriously.

Interested in learning more about Ebola? We have published a number of articles and videos on the subject in our IHS Quarterly publications

Heeding the lessons of Ebola

Tallying Cost of Ebola

Economic impacts of the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa - Video

Impact of Ebola outbreak - Video

Mark Hollis is a life sciences analyst for IHS
Posted 5 February 2015

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