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An interview with Dr Rappuoli on the vaccine industry

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As part of a series of interviews conducted with leading speakers of the World Vaccine Congress in Washington D.C., Terrapinn were delighted to sit down with Dr Rino Rappuoli, Global Head of Vaccines Research at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics. The conversation delved into the future role of big pharma in vaccines, how to deal with anti-vaccine rhetoric and what big things will take place in the coming year.

As part of a series of interviews conducted with leading speakers of the World Vaccine Congress in Washington D.C., Terrapinn were delighted to sit down with Dr Rino Rappuoli, Global Head of Vaccines Research at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics. The conversation delved into the future role of big pharma in vaccines, how to deal with anti-vaccine rhetoric and what big things will take place in the coming year.

How do you feel the role of big pharma is going to change in the vaccine industry in the coming year, and what are Novartis doing to ensure continuing success?

Overall, I think companies will continue to focus on new areas where there are unmet needs. For instance, we’re investing in promising earlier-stage projects such as a maternal vaccine for Group B Streptococcus (GBS), which is a leading cause of life-threatening infections such as sepsis and meningitis in newborns worldwide, as well as vaccines to help protect against hospital infections.

In terms of continuing our success, we’ll continue to focus on making our vaccines broadly available to patients around the world. Over the past year, we’ve had several noteworthy approvals, including regulatory approval of our meningitis B vaccine Bexsero® in Europe, Australia and Canada. Bexsero® is the first and only vaccine approved to help protect against MenB. I began researching a vaccine for MenB more than 20 years ago, and seeing the first doses administered to patients this past year has become a highlight of my career.

In the US, we successfully introduced Flucelvax®, which was the first seasonal influenza vaccine manufactured using cell culture technology to be approved by the FDA. Cell culture technology is the most significant advancement in flu vaccine manufacturing in more than 40 years and is an example of our continued commitment to technological advancement in vaccine research and development.

In the next 12 months, what do you predict will be the major changes within the vaccine industry?

The vaccine industry will increasingly need to respond to and help protect populations against potential global health threats that originate in other regions. For example, the H7N9 bird flu virus began circulating in China last March, and following its emergence, Novartis helped respond to this potential public health emergency. With our partners at Synthetic Genomics Vaccines, Inc. (SGVI), we quickly synthesized vaccine viruses targeting the H7N9 virus that was found to be circulating in China and supplied synthetic genes to the US CDC in support of global public health efforts.  Late last year, we announced interim results from a Phase I clinical trial with this vaccine, which showed that the majority of the subjects vaccinated achieved a protective immune response after two doses.

There are some concerns among the general public about the safety and risk of vaccines. In your opinion, what positive steps can the vaccine industry take to improve public perception?

Nothing helps prevent viral or bacterial infections quite as well as a vaccine. Moreover, the protective power of a vaccine can reach beyond those who’ve received it directly; vaccinating even one person can impede the transmission of that disease to others. In this way, vaccination can benefit the health and wellbeing of an entire community. This is one of the reasons that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers vaccines to be the most cost-effective healthcare intervention available today.

Unfortunately, skepticism about the safety and risk of vaccines has emerged as an ongoing public debate. However, Novartis works each year with stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to help educate patients and their families and increase awareness around the importance of vaccination. As a leader in the industry, we will continue our dialogues with external partners around the value of vaccination.

What was the last vaccination you had?

The last vaccinations I received were an adjuvanted influenza vaccine and a “TdaP” vaccine to help protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

The full set of interviews will be published next week in ‘Vaccine Viewpoints’. Keep an eye on www.vaccinenation.org to download your copy.

Dr Rappuoli is just one of an 80-strong speaker faculty. For information on the rest of the program and how to book your place at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington D.C. on March 24-26 please visit www.terrapinn.com/vaccine2014

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