Key features of technology platforms for R&D to rapidly respond to new outbreaks
Epidemics and pandemics are unlike other health crises and present unique health innovation challenges. Epidemics are unpredictable, in terms of both pathogen and geographic spread. When an outbreak occurs with a new or emerging pathogen, research activities become an integral part of the response. This includes clinical trials to assess novel technologies where the outbreak is actively spreading, with results quickly shared to inform evidence-based control strategies and policies. Because rapid response is critical, adapting existing technology platforms offers the best opportunity to create new health tools during epidemic outbreaks involving pathogens for which no adequate tools are available. However, recent experiences with Covid-19, mpox, and Ebola illustrate that our current health innovation ecosystem is not fit-for-purpose to deliver needed medical innovations equitably where and when needed and exacerbates dependencies that stand in the way of building resilience.
One example of an approach that promotes equity and regional resilience is the WHO-initiated mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in South Africa. Its network of vaccine manufacturers in 15 countries will share the platform technology established by Afrigen with the support of the research community, to enable local production of Covid-19 vaccines and facilitate follow-on innovation to adapt the technology to other disease targets.
The workshop aims to:
- Learn lessons from the mRNA Hub experience
- Explore which other platform technologies would lend themselves for rapid response R&D for epidemic tools, and that can be shared as part of regional R&D hubs.
In particular, it seeks to identify what are desirable characteristics for technology platforms to support such an approach: versatility, ease of adaptation to novel pathogens, speed and ease of production, established regulatory pathways, flexible IP arrangements that allow pre-negotiated freedom to operate, easy technology transfer, etc. The outcome of these discussions will inform policy discussions towards a new framework for pandemic R&D, including a Bellagio convening entitled “Advancing a new approach to pandemic tools as common goods”, convened by the former Independent Panel co-chair Rt Hon Helen Clark at the Rockefeller Bellagio Centre in February 2023.
Check out the panellists bios before the big event!