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Brussels, 10 March 2014
EU research and innovation on preventive vaccines
Important notice: Depending on their intended use, vaccines can broadly be grouped into preventive vaccines (which are administered to healthy persons, to protect them against infectious diseases) and therapeutic vaccines (which are given to treat persons with a disease). The information given in this memo relates to preventive vaccines.
Why is research on preventive vaccines important?
Vaccines are amongst the most efficient weapons to fight serious diseases both in terms of their preventive effects and their cost effectiveness. They protect us against diseases such as tetanus, mumps, measles, rubella, pertussis, varicella, hepatitis A and B, certain pneumococcal infections, and many others. Smallpox has been successfully eradicated and polio and diphtheria have almost disappeared thanks to vaccines.
But the potential of vaccines is not being fully realised, and the protection which they currently offer cannot be taken for granted. This is because of new or re-emerging diseases but also because of dangerous gaps in the vaccination rate of the population against known diseases such as measles. Today, we have no effective vaccines or no vaccines at all against HIV/Aids, malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, or dengue fever.
So investing in research and innovation for new and better vaccines remains a priority for the EU. This investment will also help keep Europe's lead in vaccine research, development and production. Currently, around two-thirds of vaccine research and development worldwide are carried out by European firms.
How does the EU support research and innovation on preventive vaccines?
EU support for vaccines research and innovation comes in number of ways:
Through its Research and Innovation Framework Programmes FP7 (2007-13) and Horizon 2020 (20014-20) the EU is enabling leading researchers and innovators to team up across borders, work together, and jointly develop new and better vaccines. Project examples include:
The EU also invests alongside Europe's pharmaceutical industry in the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) to pave the way for next generation vaccines, medicines and treatments. For instance, IMI's BioVacSafe and ADVANCE projects work to increase vaccine safety and to improve the testing and benefit-risk analyses of vaccines.
Supported by the EU, 16 European and 29 Sub-Saharan African countries work together within the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected diseases, including the clinical testing of new vaccines.
The EU's first ever innovation inducement prize encouraged inventors to overcome one of the biggest barriers to using vaccines in developing countries: the need to keep them stable at any ambient temperature. German biopharmaceutical company CureVac GmbH has just won this prize (IP/14/xxx).
Support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs):
Involving innovative SMEs in EU vaccine research is a priority. Some 60 companies are participating in projects of the FP7 'Health' programme, supported by more than €40 million of EU funding. And Horizon 2020 will offer new opportunities to SMEs including a new SME instrument, improved access to risk finance, and special emphasis on SMEs in certain areas of collaborative research such as biomarkers.
How much money has the EU invested in preventive vaccine research, and what progress has been made so far on the ground?
Just within the 'Health' area of its 7th Research Framework Programme (2007-13), the EU has invested some €223 million into 41 collaborative research projects (list of these projects in the annex).
One result of this investment is Europe global lead in tuberculosis vaccine innovation, where EU-funded research helped identify most of the vaccine candidates for this disease which are currently being tested. Horizon 2020 funding will allow taking this work further and there are plans for new global tuberculosis vaccine partnership.
Five separate EU-funded projects are now working on a universal flu vaccine, developing techniques to teach our immune systems to recognise any flu strain removing the need for scientists to develop new vaccines each time a new strain appears.
Thanks to EU-funding there are now also early-stage research and clinical trials on a number of so-called neglected infectious diseases - such as leishmaniasis or schistosomiasis – which are harboured mostly in developing countries and which attract very little private sector research funding. Success could improve close to a billion lives and support economic growth in countries held back by poor health.
What about global cooperation?
Health research is a global endeavour and research and innovation on vaccines are no exception.
The European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) is good example of how global challenges can be successfully addressed by the international community jointly and in partnership.
International co-operation is also a key element of the new Horizon 2020 programme which is open to participation from across the world and in which the EU would like to involve a growing number of international partners.
Finally, the European Commission collaborates with international key players in the field of vaccine research and innovation, such as the Gates Foundation or the WHO, to develop vaccine initiatives against specific diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.