Since vaccines were first developed towards the end of the 18th century, the world as we know it has been transformed by their preventative powers. Lives have been saved, diseases have diminished and the Earth’s population is now immune to previously deadly illnesses, such as smallpox. In fact, as a result of developments since the middle of the 1900s, and the widespread availability of vaccinations, it’s fair to say that many in the West take immunity against the likes of polio for granted.
But there are a handful of diseases still out there, and areas of the planet where, because of the complex methods of transporting these high-tech pharmaceuticals, getting the vaccines themselves isn’t always a given.
This challenge, amongst a number of others, is what scientists and research institutions will be looking to crack in the coming years. We’ve taken a look at developments that can be expected in the world of immunisation in the near future.
Novel vaccines on the horizon
To date, vaccines and the path to immunity have targetted infectious diseases to help minimise outbreaks. But now, researchers are turning their attention to complications that are non-infectious, but still account for millions of early deaths worldwide.
The big target is cancer. The second leading cause of death globally, the World Health Organisation estimates that one in six fatalities are caused by the disease. Although a third of these cases have links to behaviourial and dietary risks (high BMI, tobacco use, etc.), there are millions of other instances that aren’t currently preventable. But there are numerous startups and research centres looking to tackle this.
One such company, Moderna Therapeutics, is developing a vaccine that teaches the body how to fight the disease, while implantable therapeutic cancer vaccines that are aimed at boosting the immune system in cancer patients are currently being tested by the Boston-based Dana-Farbar Cancer Institute.
Although previous successes, such as the therapeutic prostate cancer drug Provenge, have fallen by the wayside as a result of the significant costs involved, the advances in the field of biotech and the spiraling of investment required should mean that advances in immunisation are a matter of when, not if.
Technology is key
The continued rise of biotech is having a huge impact on immunisation, as seen with the case of cancer vaccines above. But it’s also helping to refine and improve treatments and processes that have been in place for decades.
Research is currently underway in a number of fields to improve vaccine delivery, be it improving the manufacturing process to increase speed and efficiency, or reducing waste through enhanced transport and storage of vaccines. The latter is best displayed by IAG Cargo’s Constant Climate service – our state-of-the-art cold chain product that is designed for precision management of both time- and temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products. From ingredients through to the finished products, large pharmaceutical companies trust IAG Cargo to move their products around the globe, helping to save thousands of lives in the process.
Route of immunisation
It’s likely that you would have had a vaccine injected using a needle in your lifetime, but gone are the days where immunisations solely come in this form. Now there are a whole host of ways to get a vaccine into the human body, including oral ingestion, nasal spray or pain-free patches, and this trend is only set to continue in the future.
One benefit of this needle-free development is that the fear associated with needles is taken out of the equation. A survey by the University of Toronto found that 24% of parents and 63% of children reported a phobia of needles, with 7% and 8% respectively claiming that this fear had led to them not being immunised. By removing the needle, a significant minority of the population will be able to benefit from vaccines. But how do the alternatives differ?
As well as the common uses of oral ingestion (the rotavirus vaccine given to babies) and nasal spray (the flu vaccine given to children aged between 2-17), there are new techniques under development that could revolutionise immunisation. A significant development is the Nanopatch by the Australian company Vaxxas. Instead of a single needle, the patch (which is small enough to fit on a fingertip) contains thousands of microscopic needles, injecting the vaccines directly into the skin’s immune cells. In addition to it helping those with trypanophobia overcome their fears, the patch doesn’t have to be kept refrigerated like other vaccines – helping it reach far flung places in the less economically developed countries where the cold chain infrastructure might have broken down.
Another needle-free development in immunisation targetting those in poorer countries is the process that removes trained medical vaccine administers from the equation. One such project is that being undertaken by a team at the University of Texas, where researchers are developing an aerosol-based inhalable vaccine for the Ebola virus.
Growth of industry around the world to plug gap
One final trend we’re likely to see grow is the diversifying of the pharmaceutical industry. Gone are the days where European and North American manufacturers dominated the development and distribution of vaccines, with the likes of India and China already major players on the biotech scene.
This rise of pharmaceutical companies and research in APAC, LATAM and Africa relieves some of the pressure on the distribution of drugs to the developing countries of the world – giving their populations access to vaccines and immunisations both more quickly and cheaply.