Amy Finan, chief executive officer of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, discussed Sabin’s commitment to vaccine development and the challenges of developing and bringing vaccines to market.

Why is Sabin committed to vaccine development?

The Sabin Vaccine Institute was founded in 1993 to honor Dr. Albert Sabin, who developed the oral live virus polio vaccine, which has been used around the world to fight polio. This organization has a history of not only working to make vaccines more accessible, but also leading research to develop new, low-cost vaccines for diseases that primarily impact the world's poorest populations. Vaccines are among the most cost-effective health interventions, saving 2 to 3 million lives every year. Whether a child is growing up in an American city or a Ugandan village, vaccines can give that child a healthy start by preventing disease. The process of discovering and developing a vaccine, though, is not easy. It can take decades of research and there are no guarantees – but if that process is successful, the benefits are immense.

One of the strongest investments we can make in advancing health is to develop new medical interventions that save lives. Emerging infectious diseases threaten communities around the world. More tools, including vaccines, are urgently needed.

How is Sabin pursuing vaccine development?

Sabin has evaluated opportunities to support vaccine development for diseases that have been overlooked, despite posing a threat to billions of people. We reviewed 10,000 clinical trials and a wealth of other data, and spoke with members of the global health community, including experts who have brought vaccines to market. We identified a number of promising vaccine candidates that are languishing and are exploring partnerships to jump-start their development.

What sorts of vaccines is Sabin seeking to develop?

We are looking at several viral diseases that cause devastating health effects in low-income countries, but are not being adequately addressed by traditional vaccine developers because they lack traditional market incentives.

Often, these diseases primarily afflict poor communities, where there is no viable commercial market. We are pursuing vaccines that could be developed in a relatively short timeframe – 10 years instead of the average 20 years – at a cost less than usual – up to US$130 million versus US$1 billion.

Why is it necessary for nonprofits such as Sabin to develop vaccines? 

It takes a lot to develop a new vaccine. When it comes to diseases of epidemic potential, vaccine developers are often faced with a limited potential return on investment. As a non-profit, we focus on the human impact of the vaccines rather than any financial return.

The vaccine candidates we are considering have solid early-stage research, but have been shelved or development slowed because they are not seen as being readily profitable.

Why is this so urgent?

Diseases with limited market incentive put more than a billion people at risk of illness. With a history of large-scale outbreaks, they disrupt already stressed health systems, impact national, regional and global economies, and cause widespread illness and death. We live in an interconnected world, and diseases do not respect borders.

For many of these diseases, climate change and urbanization are major factors that could increase the threat of outbreaks. The threat is not going away. It is increasing every year.