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Tackling Vaccine-Preventable Diseases: Challenges and Advancements

Innovation drives progress,” according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Innovation is desperately needed in order to develop new agents and therapeutic biological products that could help those in need.

There have been many agents that the FDA has proved as safe and effective over the years, but a comprehensive database consisting of that information did not exist—until Michael S. Kinch, PhD, and his colleagues, who, set out to catalog every drug ever approved by the FDA. They ended up producing “the most comprehensive database in existence.” Not even the FDA had such an archive, and thus, its creation sparked dozens of academic papers and even a book.

After moving on to Washington University three years ago to head the Center for Research Innovation and Business, Dr. Kinch took on another challenge: to create a comprehensive report on every innovative vaccine ever invented. Published last month, the report shed light on a striking fact.

“If you look at the number of infectious diseases that we can prevent with a vaccine, it actually sort of planed off in the 1990s and it hasn’t actually increased since,” Dr. Kinch told MD Magazine.

Although there have been important improvements to existing vaccines, the list of vaccine-preventable diseases has barely changed at all in over two decades. Why that’s happened is complicated, although there are several probable contributing factors. Dr. Kinch shares that one argument is that clinicians have already gotten all of the “low-hanging fruit.”

The risk associated with vaccine development might be another potential factor. After all, any vaccine trial carries the risk of accidentally infecting dozens, hundreds, or thousands of patients. Economics surrounding vaccine development is also problematic for private-sector investment, Dr. Kinch noted.

“Most pharma and biotech companies want to go after what I would refer to as a boutique product, with a high cost, and a high return per patient per injection,” Dr. Kinch explains. “Vaccines tend to be a mass distribution product, where you make pennies (per injection) rather than hundreds or thousands of dollars.”

Big advances in treatment can