The development of vaccines is on the verge of a 'golden era' - but it may be threatened if the drive to cut costs by governments, including the UK, is carried out regardless of long-term health consequences, a leading academic warned today.


​Vaccine research is expanding fast – some two-thirds of world R&D is being conducted by European companies – but continuing pressure on prices could have a negative impact on investment, according to Professor Louis Galambos of the John Hopkins University, a world-leader in research and education in medicine and public health.

“The world is on the verge of a new golden age in vaccines research, but there are grave threats to this bright future,” Prof Galambos said.

“History shows us that, if governments try to treat a research-based, innovative industry in the same way as if they were buying paper-clips it will have dire consequences. Last time this ‘commoditisation’ of the market occurred, the number of major vaccine producers dropped sharply.

“Pressure to reduce healthcare costs, such as is happening in the UK at the moment, and the decline of health insurance protection in America are two examples of the thinking that could have this effect.”

Prof Galambos was speaking at the launch of his report into the prospects for the vaccines industry. Because governments are the largest purchasers of vaccines, they can exert downward pressure on prices – and, with costs increasing faster than prices, vaccines can rapidly become ‘commodities’ with a low profit margin, his report states.

This can result in companies withdrawing from the vaccines market because they can no longer afford to invest in R&D – it typically takes 10-12 years and costs some £500 million to develop a single new medicines, and significantly more for some vaccines.

The ‘first golden age’ for vaccines – which saw the eradication of smallpox as well as other major advances – ended because of the same short-sighted measures by governments as are emerging today.

The report believes that the industry is on the verge of creating a second 'golden age' - and can do so if three conditions are met. These are:

  • Continuing support for the basic science that has been a necessary foundation for success in vaccines R&D.
  • Countering attacks on the industry from politicians and others that are poorly conceived and fail to take account of the long-term objectives of developing further vaccines for the benefit of humanity.
  • Promoting attitudes in governments and health agencies attitudes that look beyond short-term budgetary savings to longer-term health needs.

If these conditions cannot be fulfilled, Pro Galambos's report believes that the world may be facing a threat to the development of the vaccines of the future.


View the report by Prof Galambos, What are the prospects for a new golden era in vaccines (PDF, 386KB).


Professor Galambos's paper will be published this month in Eurohealth (Vol. 14, Issue 1). Eurohealth is freely available to download from the web site of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies

For further information, please contact: ABPI Press office 020 7747 1410

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