With vaccines widely available for many of the most common childhood illnesses, like measles and mumps, many people think that the golden age of vaccine development has passed. Our head of Vaccines R&D, Dr Emmanuel Hanon, thinks they’re wrong.
Through combining medical knowledge, technical innovation and manufacturing capability, vaccine developers have never been in a better position to tackle public health challenges affecting people of all ages, in all areas of the globe.
It was more than 200 years ago that Edward Jenner became the first person to successfully develop a vaccine.1 Since his milestone vaccine against smallpox, no medical achievement has done more to save lives and improve quality of life than the simple act of vaccination.2 The science Jenner used in that first vaccine is still widely used today, but there is more to do. There are still diseases for which no vaccine exists. New technologies are now allowing us to explore therapeutic, as well as preventive, vaccination for the first time. This means vaccines may become commonly used to treat existing conditions, rather than as prevention against illness.
These new technologies have been created as the result of an explosion in our knowledge of the human body, immunology, virology and genomics, and are allowing scientists to develop vaccines for diseases that haven’t previously been vaccine preventable. Adjuvant Systems, a technology GSK has been working on for more than 20 years, has made it possible to develop vaccines that target specific age groups, such as or older people. As we get older so does our immune system, which means a vaccine may require the boosting effect of an adjuvant to make some types of vaccine work more effectively.
At GSK we have a large technology toolkit and adjuvants are just one of what we call technology “platforms”, allowing us to expand the scope of vaccine research. Our scientists have accepted the challenge to think about what the vaccines of the future might look like, whether they’ll be administered as they are now, or whether we could programme cells within the body to make the antibodies needed to protect against future infection by certain diseases. We also utilise the latest technology, like virtual reality headsets and 3D modelling, to help design new, and in some cases, new or improved vaccines.
So, like Emmanuel, we think we’re still in the golden age of vaccine development, and through the innovations taking place in our vaccines pipeline, we’re going to prove it.