Vaccine investment breathing new life into space?

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Esben_H)
(Image: Getty/Esben_H)

Related tags Vaccines Johnson & johnson Merck Gsk

Once a neglected area of pharma research, companies are now investing heavily after several major commercial successes and with promising new avenues of research progressing.

The latest research suggests that the global vaccine market is set to develop at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6% through to 2025​ to be worth $48bn (€42.2bn).

Recent investment in the space would appear to back up this growth picture for the sector, though the additional funding being put into the area is arriving from a number of different angles.

Here are three factors driving forward the development of the vaccine industry:

1. Pressing therapeutic need

The importance of vaccines has come to the fore in public discussion due to the emergence of the ‘anti-vaxx’ movement, which has been linked to outbreaks of measles​ in the US.

However, it is not just domestic vaccination that has grown in importance in the country, this week the US Health and Human Services’ office announced that it would be funding additional manufacture​ of an experimental Ebola vaccine. The decision was taken, according to the agency, in order to ‘protect people at home’ from the virus.

The funding of $23m will support an additional year’s production of V920, a vaccine being investigated by Merck, known as MSD outside of the US and Canada, to combat the spread of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As well as emerging epidemics, pharmaceutical companies are continuing to invest in treatments for public health threats, such as Johnson & Johnson’s work on a HIV vaccine​ that could represent a landmark achievement for the industry.

2. Looking to the future of cancer treatment

An emerging area of research that is developing rapidly is the area of cancer vaccines. The technology is being explored by companies in conjunction with immuno-oncology portfolios. The aim is to determine whether the vaccines will be able to promote additional anti-tumor activity alongside existing treatments.

In the example of Boehringer Ingelheim, the company spent €325m to acquire AMAL​, which has begun a clinical trial looking into treating colorectal cancer by triggering an immune response, through a vaccine, in tumors that had previously gone undetected by the immune system.

Previous early-stage research had suggested that the use of oncology vaccines alongside a PD-L1 inhibitor could improve survival rate​.

3. Expanding production to meet demand

The larger companies in the vaccines space have recently announced significant capital investment to meet demand for big-selling products. The most notable, of recent years, is GSK’s Shingrix, a vaccine against shingles (herpes zoster).

The demand for the vaccine has been such that GSK was unprepared to meet orders, leading to the company funding a $100m expansion​ of its Montana, US, site. In 2019, the company has had to limit the orders it processes for the vaccine, as it completes a multi-year expansion project to build out supply.

Merck had a similar story for its Gardasil vaccine, which protects against human papillomavirus. The company has invested more than $650m in building an entirely new US production facility​ for the vaccine to ensure its supply.

Most recently, as part of Pfizer’s $500m plans to expand production for its gene therapy, the company also announced that it would improve its capacity to produce components for its vaccine portfolio​.

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