Vaccines are probably the most effective discovery in the history of medical science. Their low cost, extended protection and the impossibility of their circumvention through development of resistance on the part of the target pathogen render them unmatched as a tool of efficient healthcare.
Vaccines are also one of the oldest medical devices, with a history going back at least a thousand years. Modern vaccine advances date from the 19th century. Today vaccine technology is undergoing a fundamental revolution, taking advantage of the profound understanding of the immune system, and its ability to mount protective antibody production and cell-based responses to foreign antigens.
In the latter part of the 20th century, vaccines endured a rollback in which concern over legal challenges and negative publicity over real and imagined side effects of vaccination. Protective legislation passed by congress in the 1980s combined with improvements in vaccine technology have driven a resurgence in its public acceptance.
This report profiles some of the major pharma companies involved in vaccine R&D and a number of biotech companies developing new vaccine products and technologies.
The logistics and management of the vaccine industry is more and more based on partnerships between the private sector (pharma and biotech companies), government agencies (WHO) and large non-profits (such as the Gates Foundation). This relationship will grow and expand in the foreseeable future.
The report concludes with an assessment of the future directions of vaccines as innovative medical therapies for a wide range of diseases. In addition it explores conditions not normally thought to be in purview of vaccination, including substance abuse and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Since the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the federal government has committed substantial resources to investigating biological warfare agents and treatments for such weapons. However data available in the public sphere suggests that the risk that these agents would be employed in a meaningful way is slight, and may drain resources from much more likely challenges, such as flu pandemics.
The long range outlook for vaccines is bright. Traditional vaccines worked through stimulation of the humoral arm of the immune system, and so were limited in their effectiveness for the treatment of cell-based diseases. New technologies and an expanded understanding of the basic science of cellular immunity are opening innovative pathways to the engineering of more effective vaccines.
A final chapter presents results of a survey of industry experts concerning the political economic and technological future of vaccine technology.