• A POSTnote on vaccine development will look at the opportunities that new vaccine technologies offer relative to conventional approaches and the latest information from current vaccine pipelines.
  • It will also discuss policy approaches to stimulate and fast-track vaccine research and development, particularly in the context of an emerging infectious disease. 
  • Provisional start date: July 2020. To contribute expertise, literature or an external reviewer please contact Dr Cristiana Vagnoni. View our guidance for expert contributors.

The COVID-19 outbreak has focused attention on rapid vaccine development. Technological advances in immunology, protein design and genetic delivery offer new approaches to developing vaccine candidates. They can also increase the speed at which vaccines can be developed. This is particularly important for emerging diseases for which there are no vaccines and limited clinical treatments.

Conventional vaccines have used attenuated or inactivated forms of a pathogen, for example polio and measles viruses, or toxins produced by pathogens, such as tetanus and diphtheria toxoids. Producing these vaccines relies on techniques to cultivate pathogens in vitro (such as chicken eggs or cell lines), with appropriate containment facilities and, often, a cold supply chain to ensure that the vaccine is viable at the point of use.

This approach is slow, and typically takes 10 to 12 years before a vaccine is ready for the market.

Vaccine platforms are the underlying mechanisms that can be modified to produce target antigens. They are of significant interest as they provide a modular approach to creating new vaccines more rapidly. This is relevant to recent techniques involving nucleic acid-based vaccines that contain either DNA or RNA sequences of the pathogen.

These sequences encode the antigen of interest so that it is produced by the body. Advantages over conventional vaccines include improved vaccine stability, absence of an infectious agent in the vaccine, rapid production of vaccine candidates for clinical trial testing, and the relative ease of scaling up manufacture at pace.

A POSTnote on this topic will summarise the latest developments in vaccine technologies, the opportunities that they offer relative to conventional approaches and the latest information from current vaccine pipelines. It will also discuss policy approaches to stimulate and fast-track vaccine research and development, particularly in the context of an emerging infectious disease.