NISS/Merck Meetup Reviews the Challenges and Potential in Vaccine Development

Ivan Chan (AbbVie Inc.) explains the benefits of vaccines as part of his presentation.Joshua Chen (Sanofi Pasteur) reviews the known science behind COVID-19.Marc Lipsitch (Harvard University) compares to ways vaccines are used.

It took until the end of the webinar.  But someone finally asked the question that was probably on the minds of every one of the 250+ attendees at this meetup (and perhaps on the minds of countless more around the world!)

“When are we going to have a safe and effective vaccine?”

Yes, with the COVID pandemic having such a profound effect around the world, everyone is hoping for a highly protective and safe vaccine soon. Yet most have little understanding of the difficult road for discovery and development of a vaccine. The NISS/Merck Meetup that took place of September 16, 2020 was the latest is a long series of valued NISS/Merck meet-ups.  This session focused on the challenges of vaccine development and novel ways those challenges can be met.

Three experts were brought together to talk about the latest in vaccine development.

The first speaker was Ivan Chan from (AbbVie Inc.).  Ivan provided a thorough overview of what is involved in the development of vaccines, what they are, the benefits, types of immunity and how they are evaluated in terms of safety, efficacy and Immunogenicity.  In addition, there is the variability and stability of the vaccine to consider.  Finally, he quickly traced the regulatory pathway and the issues that surrounds this, including those involved in accelerated development programs currently underway.  He provided a concise and informed overview for the speakers that followed him.

Joshua Chen’s (Sanofi Pasteur) presentation provided details that more exclusively addressed the Coronavirus COVID-19.  He started by explaining details related to the science behind the virus and the context for the two approaches that Sanofi Pasteur is taking towards the development of a vaccine.  He then walked through the regulatory pathway to approval providing current examples and the issues that have resulted.  The final part of his presentation outlined the specifics that surround a clinical plan given the regulatory paths and guidance that has been established.  In conclusion, Josh reflected that we are still on a steep learning curve regarding the science behind this virus, and the path to developing a safe and effective vaccine must balance both speed and risk.  Moreover, because of the huge numbers of people involved Josh could not emphasize enough need for safety.

The final speaker of the session was Marc Lipsitch (Harvard University).  He began his comments by pointing out the two ways that vaccines are used, either direct approach to protect vulnerable populations or the indirect approach that targets, in the case of COVID, young adults who are the major transmitters, and in this way protecting the vulnerable – each having its own requirements.  After this introduction of his talk, the challenge is whether either approach will work; in the direct approach vaccination protects the highest priority at risk subgroups, or the indirect approach, which serves to reduce transmission or infectiousness.  From here the majority of his comments outlined three partial solutions.

Throughout the session the attendees posted questions for the speakers to address. Not only did the questions quickly get to the heart of the issues being discussed, the responses and back and forth between the speakers demonstrated their understanding of current developments, pointing out the deficiencies and obstacles to successful development, but also the importance of this work.

Joshua Chen (lower left) responds to an attendee's question asked
by moderator Dan Holder (upper left).  Ivan Chan (upper right)
and Marc Lipsitch (below right) await their chance to respond.

So, what were the speaker’s responses to the question, “When are we going to have a safe and effective vaccine?”   General organizer and moderator of the session Dan Holder (Merck) made it clear that no one has a “crystal ball” but he did get each of the speakers to weigh in.   Review the recording of the session and you’ll find out exactly what they had to say!

Recording of the Session and Slides Used by the Speakers

Ivan Chan, (AbbVie Inc.)
"Opportunities and challenges in vaccine development"

Joshua Chen, (Sanofi Pasteur)
"Some Considerations on Developing COVID-19 Vaccines"

Marc Lipsitch, (Harvard University)
"From testing to distribution: the importance of, and challenges to, estimating the protective effects of vaccines"

Thursday, September 17, 2020 by Glenn Johnson