COVID-19 vaccine still ‘likely to take a year or 18 months’, says IPHA

During World Immunisation Week begins, the biopharmaceutical industry says:

  • Scientists are ‘working around the clock’ to find a way to prevent or cure the disease
  • The search is urgent – but there can be no ‘short-cuts’ on the testing needed to ensure a vaccine, or a treatment, is safe and effective
  • Various collaborative projects are exploring vaccine technologies for early phase clinical trials­


Scientists are making progress in the search for a vaccine for COVID-19 – but it is still likely to be a year or 18 months before one is available, according to the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) which represents the research-based international biopharmaceutical industry.

During World Immunisation Week, IPHA says a vaccine is the only way to protect the world’s population against new waves of COVID-19 infection.

While a medicine would treat the disease, a vaccine would stop people getting it in the first place. Scientists across industry, universities, and health and research organisations are working around the clock in searching for vaccines and treatments. In many cases, biopharmaceutical companies are turning to their libraries of approved drugs or compounds that are in early testing and screening to see whether any of them can take down the virus.

Most experts believe it will take a year to 18 months to develop, test, approve and manufacture a vaccine.

Vaccines take time to develop – years, if not decades. But, due to the urgency of the pandemic, the timetable is being shortened. But scientists know that there can be no short-cuts on the testing needed to ensure a vaccine, or a treatment, is safe and effective.

Several biopharmaceutical companies have potential medicines in various stages of development, and some existing medicines are in late phase clinical trials. Various collaborative projects, some of them guided by programmes such as Europe’s Innovative Medicines Initiative, are exploring vaccine technologies for early phase clinical trials.

Johnson & Johnson expects to start human clinical trials on a lead vaccine candidate by September, with the first batches available for emergency use by early next year. Pfizer has signed a deal with Germany’s BioNTech to co-develop a potential vaccine while Eli Lilly and AbCellera are working together on antibody products. AbbVie has announced it is donating US$35 million to COVID-19 relief efforts, as well as exploring the potential of an antiretroviral therapy for HIV to treat COVID-19. Scientists at MSD are assessing antiviral and vaccine assets to see whether any could be applied in the treatment of COVID-19. GSK and Sanofi are combining efforts to develop an adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine. The plan is to have it available in the second half of next year. There are many other examples.

In Ireland, the industry, in partnership with the Government, universities, the health authorities, charities and patient advocacy groups, is contributing to the pandemic response. We are keeping manufacturing going, maintaining the supply chain, sharing information, insights and resources with the health authorities, helping charities and patient groups, and contributing to the search for vaccines and treatments. And when the economic recovery comes, we will be there to help drive it.

Jon Barbour, Director of Medical Affairs, GSK Ireland, said: “The great challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic is to develop an effective vaccine quickly. The good news is that this is the first time in history that there has been such a concerted global effort and collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and research organisations to find a specific vaccine. According to the latest data from the World Health Organisation, there are three vaccine candidates in clinical evaluation and at least 67 vaccine candidates in preclinical evaluation globally.

“However, vaccine development is a lengthy, complex process and once a vaccine has come through the clinical trial process, the next challenge will be scaling up manufacturing to produce millions of doses which will require a partnership approach between pharmaceutical manufacturers that have the expertise and resources to produce vaccines to meet global need.”

Dr Declan O’Callaghan, Medical Director, Pfizer Healthcare Ireland, said: “Pfizer continues to invest in ground-breaking research with scientists working worldwide to find novel vaccines that will protect against some of the most challenging and devastating diseases and infections of our time. This is more evident than ever as we battle collectively against Covid-19.

“Pfizer has a strong heritage in the research and development of new vaccines, playing a pivotal role in tackling deadly infectious diseases like smallpox and polio globally. Development of a new vaccine will be a critical step in helping to solve the current COVID 19 pandemic and Pfizer has entered into a partnership with BioNTech. We have just recently received approval to start a clinical trial in Germany with four vaccine candidates which is part of a global development programme.”

Ger Brennan, Managing Director, MSD Ireland (Human Health), said: “Now more than ever, we can see the importance of critical medicines and the need for vaccines to prevent illnesses. At MSD Ireland, we are committed to making a difference in all that we do. We are dedicated to continuing with our essential operations, supporting the ongoing supply of the critical medicines and vaccines we make.”

Hugo Fry, Managing Director, UK and Ireland, Sanofi, said: “As the world faces this unprecedented global health crisis, it is clear that no one company can go it alone. That is why Sanofi is continuing to complement its expertise and resources with our peers, such as GSK, with the goal to create and supply sufficient quantities of vaccines that will help stop this virus. This approach is exemplified by the multi-pronged approach to fight COVID-19 with the accelerated development of vaccine candidates and therapeutics and, while the duration of the pandemic remains unknown at this point, we are confident that Sanofi is well positioned to navigate these challenges and deliver on our commitment to patients.”

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