The Research Status of Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Vaccine

The novel coronavirus pneumonia has spread to more than 160 countries and regions worldwide, and the virus has no specific medicine so far. Under these circumstances, the research and development of a vaccine is very important. Presently, many companies have participated in the research and development of vaccines, but four vaccine giants' attitudes toward coronavirus pneumonia vaccine are ambiguous.

So now, the question becomes: which companies and institutions are involved in vaccine research and development, and what each of their progress?

1. Present Research Status of Coronavirus Vaccine

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of March 13, there were 41 vaccine candidates in the world. According to another incomplete statistics, by March 17, at least 96 companies and academic groups around the world have been involved in vaccine research, and they have announced 66 novel coronavirus vaccine development plans. Now, they are racing against time, as each organization wants to be the first to succeed.

The good news is that two months after the outbreak, vaccine research and development in both America and China have gradually begun to take shape.

On March 16, an American team skipped animal testing and directly started and finished the first human clinical trial; on the same day, another research group in China was approved to start clinical testing.

Both R&D teams of the United States and China have sped up the process by abandoning the traditional vaccine technology route and used a new technology platform. Therefore, their progress has indeed exceeded previous estimates of some industry insiders.

2. Companies and Institutions Involved in Vaccine Development

Slow response of the four giants:

Since the outbreak of coronavirus pneumonia, people all over the world want to know when new vaccines can be developed and produced. People naturally have high hopes for the most capable enterprises: GlaxoSmithKline from the UK, Sanofi from France, MSD and Pfizer from the United States. These four companies are known as the world's four vaccine giants, as they firmly control the world's best-selling vaccine products and sell tens of billions of dollars worth of vaccines every year.

However, at the beginning of the spread of the coronavirus, the silence of the four giants disappointed people. Belatedly, the big companies announced their vaccine plans in February. Sanofi announced that it would participate in the development of vaccines; GlaxoSmithKline said it would provide technical support for other enterprises, but would not participate in the development of vaccines, themselves.

Why are these vaccine giants not positive about this vaccine development?

The answer is simple: because the research of pandemic vaccine requires a lot of money, but there is not enough economic benefit, as the epidemic is likely to end before the vaccine is developed. Therefore, many large companies will invest cautiously, judging the risk to potentially outweigh the reward.

Thomas Broil, Director of GlaxoSmithKline's health department, said in an interview recently that they provide only assistive technology because it is hard to predict how long the outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia will last. He stressed that "vaccine production is only worth promoting on a large scale."

According to the Financial Times, the pharmaceutical industry's response to the epidemic is to some extent driven by a sense of social responsibility and the excitement of solving scientific problems.

Participation of SMEs in R & D:

Different from large companies, many small and medium-sized pharmaceutical enterprises have been participating in vaccine research and development activities. WHO's statistical list shows that small enterprises are more likely to join the vaccine research and development competition.

For these small enterprises (SMEs) still in the stage of technology development, they may be more tolerant of risks resulting in new technologies "cutting corners" in return for making rapid progress. A professor at the University of Pennsylvania said: "Participating in vaccine development is like a gamble. If the company wins the bet, it will be a huge chance for the company; if it loses, the company can also improve its own technology based on practical experience."

Besides, the development of coronavirus vaccines may obtain the government's financial and policy support and will also be favored by the market. After the announcement of the information on the research and development of vaccines, the stock prices of Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Moderna, American Biological companies, rose sharply.

Therefore, this provides an opportunity for huge returns and small losses for SMEs participating in vaccine development that have more flexible teams and technologies.

Government-related organizations:

Generally speaking, some public resources need to be allocated by the government. Although the epidemic vaccine has great benefits to society, many enterprises cannot afford to participate because of the huge investment and low economic benefits. So now, some government-related organizations have begun working on vaccine development.

As mentioned in the beginning, the first clinical trial of a novel coronavirus vaccine was launched in the USA on March 16th. The candidate vaccine of that trial, codenamed mRNA-1273, was jointly developed by the National Institutes of health and Moderna Inc, a Massachusetts biotechnology company. The trial was then launched by The National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the Kaiser Hospital Institute.

3. Development Status of the Vaccine Industry

According to Bernstein, an asset management firm, the vaccine market has grown six-fold in the past 20 years and is now worth more than $35 billion. Safe to say, the future of the vaccine industry is promising.

Furthermore, the four giants account for up to 85% of the market share. In 94 countries with relatively low incomes in the world, the net return for every $1 invested in vaccines is $44. CNBC reported that MSD's vaccine business generated $8.4 billion in revenue in 2019. Since 2010, the business has been growing at an annual rate of 9%. Among that all, Gardasil is "the best-selling vaccine in history", with sales of more than $3 billion in 2018.

With the expansion of immunization programs in developing countries such as China, the vaccine market will only expand further.

As for the pandemic vaccine, although big companies with multiple vaccines have not entered the coronavirus vaccine development camp, developers will act as if the virus is going to coexist with human society for the foreseeable future.

With the development of the novel coronavirus vaccine at the forefront of R&D programs, people can believe that the world will overcome the pandemic soon. The future of the vaccine industry is bright, and its development potential is huge. However, while the potential economic gain from the vaccine industry is limitless, the industry should also consider their social responsibilities and the priceless rewards of helping humanity.

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