The Dong-A Ilbo (Business Section)
Op-ed by Dr. Jerome Kim, Director General, IVI
May 15, 2017
Jerome Kim, MD, Director General, IVI
Imagine a world where the emergence of Ebola was rapidly terminated by vaccines that had been developed and stockpiled in anticipation of a crisis. Over 11,000 lives lost and 6 billion dollars later, a year after the Ebola outbreak started, we had the first hint of an effective vaccine. Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, notes, “Ebola and Zika showed that the world is tragically unprepared to detect local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics. Without investments in research and development, the world will remain unequipped when we face the next threat.”
The launch of a global coalition that will support development of new vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has already raised almost half of the $1billion it needs for its first five years. The governments of Germany, Japan and Norway joined forces with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to make an initial investment of US $460 million. India is considering a major investment. The coalition would welcome other leading scientific countries including Korea to join this partnership, and benefit from it.
There is an already precedent of successful global public-private partnerships that have developed new vaccines, laboratory tests and drugs for global health. As independent Gates Foundation funded projects, organizations like the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), International Vaccine Institute (IVI), and the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) have work with Korean companies to make products for global health – new tests for rapid diagnosis of infectious diseases, a new vaccine against the disease called cholera, or a medication that works against malaria. In a similar way, but targeting those epidemic diseases that threaten us all, CEPI will be proactive, collective defense through vaccine development, and stockpiling.
CEPI is already receiving proposals from researchers and companies around the world to support the development of vaccines for the initial set of emerging diseases: MERS, Lassa fever and Nipah. Companies can be incentivized for the development of outbreak vaccines and to offset their investments with CEPI funding. Korean biotechnology companies, large and small, have an opportunity, and the Korean government’s plans for the future growth and development of the vaccines industry could be leveraged against CEPI’s funding.
After MERS, and the recent outbreaks of avian influenza and hoof-and-mouth disease, Korea knows the human and economic cost of epidemic disease (animal and human). The US National Academy of Sciences estimated that the average yearly cost of pandemic disease in the 21st century was 60 billion US dollars. Against this cost to the global society, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance estimates that vaccines provide a return on investment (ROI) of 16:1, in other words, 16 dollars of benefit for every dollar spent!.
Infectious diseases do not respect borders. These are potentially lingering problems for Korea but they are also global problems and can be more efficiently addressed collectively by the world. CEPI’s funders commit to the collaborative identification and prioritization of threats, the development of vaccine solutions, and the stockpiling of vaccines against the inevitable outbreaks. To meet these goals, CEPI will need significant additional investment. Korea as the current chair of the Global Health Security Agenda should show leadership by funding CEPI and challenging other nations to do the same.