News Article

Running Against the Clock: Developing a COVID-19 Vaccine

By Miriam Bello | Thu, 01/28/2021 - 11:57

You can watch the video of this panel here.

Time is gold in healthcare, especially when developing innovative solutions to respond to global threats. On Thursday Jan. 28, Mexico Health Summit brought together three key leaders of the pharmaceutical industry that are working on developing a treatment and a vaccine against COVID-19.

“This has been a challenge for the industry. However, we are the right people to tackle it,” said Yolanda Cervantes, Vaccine Medical Director at GSK Mexico. Derived from endless research, the current vaccine developments are moving forward. “The industry has around 10 technology platforms running for vaccine development. This accelerated results.”

Mario Sturion, Managing Director of Janssen Mexico, said having a vaccine ready and many other developments in Phase 3 of clinical trials would have been unthinkable before 2020. “We experienced historic collaboration in the name of common good,” he said. However, regardless of how hopeful and positive companies may be regarding their development, Sturion said this is a process that should not be rushed. “Development takes its given time and that is what has enabled the current vaccines. For instance, Janssen has used the vector method for vaccine development that had already been used for other conditions, like Zika and HIV,” he added. Without the time invested in developing previous vaccines, finding a solution to COVID-19 in record time would not be possible or safe. “Previous time invested in research gave us an advantage to reach Phase 3 trials in rushed times.”

Cervantes explained that development was indeed the first challenge for pharmaceutical companies. However, this was followed by three new hurdles: distribution, access and application. Juan Silanes, CEO of Inosan Biopharma, said information is the cornerstone to achieve goals regarding treatment and vaccination. Inosan Biopharma is a national company developing antivenom solutions. Its unique treatments are used globally and comply with diverse international regulations to treat diseases like Ebola. To date, the company is developing a treatment for the early stages of COVID-19.

Silanes explained that there is a gap in understanding how treatment and vaccines are used and how they complement each other. Production efforts and maximum work capacity will be wasted if access and use of treatment are not understood properly, he said. “Treatments must be included in preventive measures. These and vaccines have different goals and are critical for different moments in terms of contact with the virus.” Cervantes also highlighted the importance of communicating the details of vaccine development, especially regarding relevance and safety. “Around 2-3 million lives are saved because of vaccination. We need to communicate the importance of vaccination to boost prevention.”

For communication to be effective, Sturion said it is important to implement strategies in close collaboration with government and local institutions. “This is an important step to bust fake news and spread the benefits of a solid, safe scientific background from decades-old pharmaceutical companies that have already tested treatments and vaccines in the market.”

In terms of access, Cervantes congratulated multilateral initiatives where GSK is participating, like COVAX and CEPI. Mexico is part of both agreements and is expecting large number of doses as a result starting in March. Sturion also mentioned that Mexico has preestablished a contract with Janssen for a large number of vaccine doses, which is expected to be confirmed very soon. 

“Every country has different conditions, which is something important to have in mind to keep advancing with different developments,” concluded Cecilia Padierna, Business Development Manager of LEI, as moderator of the panel. To overcome the pandemic, at least 70-80 percent of the world population needs to be vaccinated. “The entire industry has one goal, which is to treat people and bring them hope that things can improve,” she said.


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Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst