Increased Vaccine Production Capacity Needed to Better Prepare for Future Outbreaks, Says GSK Chief

With the opening of a new R&D center in Rockville, MD, GlaxoSmithKline strives to improve global outbreak preparedness and calls for increased vaccine production capacity.

Despite the fact that a number of advancements are continually being made in the healthcare sector, infectious disease outbreaks—both costly and sometimes even fatal—continue to plague healthcare professionals as they are often unprepared for unexpected outbreaks.

According to Andrew Witty, GlaxoSmithKline (GKS) CEO, in order to gain preparedness for such threats, increased vaccine manufacturing capacity is needed. To this end, last month, GSK opened a new global vaccines research and development (R&D) center in Rockville, Maryland; this is GSK’s first R&D center to open in the United States.

In a press release, the president of GSK Vaccines, Luc Debruyne, commented, “We are delighted to be opening our new facility in Rockville, GSK’s first fully dedicated vaccine R&D center located in the US. Our investment here signifies our commitment to discovering and developing new vaccines across a range of pressing public health priorities, including those important here in the US.”

At the opening ceremony, Witty stressed that “there is almost zero excess capacity in the global vaccine world.” He continued, “I don’t have a production line in vaccines which isn’t running all the time.”

According to the press release, “During emergencies, then, companies are forced to divert R&D rescources while their manufacturing facilities struggle to keep up.” In fact, because of this, GSK almost had to reduce their output of the rotavirus vaccine during the Ebola outbreak. With limited vaccine production capacity, less vaccines will be available to those who need them.

Witty inquired of the crowd at the opening ceremony, “From an investor point of view and from a global health point of view, do you really want those choices?”

Twelve programs pertaining to vaccine development will be held at the R&D center in Rockville. These programs will address respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Group B Streptococcus (GBS), and dengue fever, among others; there will also be projects related to a shingles vaccine, which GSK filed for approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back in October.

In addition to these projects and programs, the Rockville site will also house GSK’s biopreparedness organization (BPO), which is a “dedicated, permanent organization using a ‘no profit/no loss’ model that will design and develop new vaccines against emerging viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that potentially pose a threat to global public health.”

GSK hopes that the new R&D center and their proposed BPO will not only help strengthen outbreak preparedness worldwide, but will inspire other stakeholders to become a part of the effort. Through a collective effort between “governments, vaccine companies, and research institutions,” healthcare officials will be able to more effectively respond to and quell future threats and outbreaks, and thus, save a number of lives.