What the Gates Foundation’s $10 Billion Pledge Means For Vaccine Development and Delivery

This morning at the World Economic Forum, Bill and Melinda Gates announced a new $10 billion, 10-year commitment to support vaccine development and delivery. They called for the 2010s to be the “Decade of Vaccines” and asked other donors to step up their own commitments to vaccines.

According to PATH, it costs 500 million dollars to move a vaccine from the laboratory to safe and effective use. Ten billion dollars could mean twenty new vaccines. It could also improve the reach of existing vaccines, and support the development of new technologies, like vaccines that don’t need to be kept cold.

There are a few likely targets for this funding: developing vaccines for TB, malaria, Meningococcal meningitis A, and dengue; advocacy for countries to include the rotavirus vaccine into childhood vaccine schedules; increasing use of the pneumonia vaccine; and supporting new types of vaccine delivery. This might include vaccines that require only a single dose (no boosters), and vaccines that don’t need to stay cold to remain effective.

The vaccine closest to production is malaria, and I think it’s a likely candidate for a lot of Gates Foundation funding. It has massive global reach, which is getting broader with global warming. Even a partially effective vaccine could really improve health in warm climates and reduce maternal mortality. There are a number of possible malaria vaccines currently in clinical trial; additional funding could speed the process of finding the one that works.

Expanding the use of the rotavirus vaccine is another goal likely to receive funding. Rotavirus causes diarrhea. Diarrheal infections kill almost two million children a year, and rotavirus is responsible for a quarter of those infections – that means a virus could save 500,000 children annually. There is a safe and effective rotavirus vaccine on the market, but many countries are not including it in their vaccine schedules. Gates Foundation funding could support research to convince nations to adopt the vaccine, or help them purchase it.

Finally, I think that the Gates Foundation is likely to support innovation in the manufacture of vaccines. One example would be supporting developing countries to manufacture their own vaccines instead of importing them. Another would be actually changing the way that vaccines are manufactured – the flu vaccine, for example, still requires an egg-based medium that was developed in the 1950s. Every does of flu vaccine requires three chicken eggs to produce it.