- To counter the coronavirus epidemic, laboratories around the world have begun to tackle the subject with unparalleled speed.
- Normally, creating a vaccine can take much longer. And not to be counted in months, but in years!
- The costs of creating a vaccine are not trivial and represent a significant investment for laboratories.
They’ve been fighting each other for several months. To counter the coronavirus epidemic, pharmaceutical companies around the world have begun to tackle the subject with an unprecedented speed. And some are even on the verge of passing the famous phase III, condition sine qua non to be able to market their product. The Pfizer and BioNTech laboratories have thus confirmed that they will file a marketing authorization application this Friday with the US Medicines Agency (FDA).
But, under normal circumstances, creating a vaccine can take much longer. And not to be counted in months, but in years! Only one thing does not vary, or very little: its cost.
Several hundred thousand euros of investment
“To finance the development phase, which represents several hundred thousand euros, it is the laboratories themselves which are putting their hands in their pockets. Small labs, often more innovative but which suffer from more limited financial means, are forced to forge partnerships with their counterparts ”, explains Claire Roger, president of the vaccines committee of Leem (Les entreprises du medicament) and responsible for the vaccine part in France. for the GSK pharmaceutical laboratory.
Three stages make up this phase of creating a vaccine candidate: a first for testing the antigen on animals, a second for a test on ten to forty people maximum, then a third and final stage of tests carried out at more large scale, with 40,000 to 60,000 volunteers. “What is most expensive in all of this is patient monitoring,” says Claire Roger.
A more delicate production than that of a drug
Once this third step has been successfully completed, a marketing application can then be made. “In a pandemic period, it is possible to carry out stages 2 and 3 simultaneously”, specifies the head of GSK.
We must then set up a vaccine factory to produce the antigen. And for each new vaccine, its dedicated production line. Because it is more complex than that of a drug since it is about biological molecules, and not chemicals. The production phase costs almost as much as the development phase: between 300 and 400,000 euros.
An uncertain return on investment
The costs of creating a vaccine are therefore not trivial and represent a significant investment for laboratories. So, to protect themselves in the event of an accident in the production chain, they fiercely negotiate pre-orders with institutions, and in particular States. “We must not forget that, although it varies from one laboratory to another, vaccines generally do not represent more than 20% of their turnover,” underlines Claire Roger.
So why embark on such a race? Unlike an influenza vaccine, the one against Covid-19 could yield much greater returns, given the number of countries affected by the pandemic. In addition, whoever is the first to cross the finish line could see their stock market jump. As proof, the + 145% of the Moderna laboratory and + 315% of Inovio Pharmaceuticals since the beginning of the year.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) November 19, 2020
But the thousands of euros already invested in research for an anti-Covid vaccine will not be enough to ensure global distribution. This Friday, a call was launched by several leaders to the G20 countries to help fill a shortfall of $ 4.5 billion in the World Health Organization (WHO) fund intended, in particular, for the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.