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Recent Technology and Partnership Advances Made Possible Precision and Speed of Vaccine Response to Pandemic, NIAID’s Graham Stresses at CASSS WCBP Conference

Feb 2nd, 2021

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The precision and speed of COVID-19 vaccine development was made possible by recent R&D advancements and a strengthened network of public-private partnerships, NIH National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Vaccine Research Center (VCR) Deputy Director Barney Graham affirmed in his keynote presentation at the opening session of the CASSS Well-Characterized Biotechnology Products (WCBP) conference in late January.

Building on the foundation of these more robust technologies and partnerships, he explained, “we ended up with a good result – even better than we had hoped.”

The COVID experience and learnings, in turn, Graham emphasized, suggest that “prototype pathogen preparedness is feasible, even for the other viral families that remain out there” where vaccine development has not yet matured.

In his keynote presentation and the Q&A that followed, Graham shared a wealth of insights on how the accelerated COVID-19 vaccine development was made possible by the recent science and technology advances and on the role that the NIAID’s VCR, in collaboration with a network of partners, played in empowering the process – a role that Graham was intimately engaged in as a global leader in vaccine research.

In reviewing the rapidly evolving vaccine R&D landscape, he explained how, in the past, viruses “really have had the advantage over us, because they can adapt faster and have more mechanisms to adapt than we have ever had with our approaches to contact tracing and quarantine.”

However, the advantage has been shifting in favor of the technologies over the viruses, he affirmed. “I think we are in an era where we could apply them in a way that makes this very historically uncertain process of biological development more of an engineering kind of exercise.”

Structure-based design and some of the new approaches to protein engineering and self-assembling nanoparticles, he stressed, can not only make this approach more precise and predicable, but also more rapid. “And combining precision and speed is what we need in order to address emerging infectious diseases that we have faced over this last decade.” [See IPQ August 27, 2020 for more insights on this shift in the product development paradigm from discovery to design and its implications by American Gene Technologies CEO Jeff Galvin.]

Graham then reviewed the human virus landscape – explaining how the problem is a finite one that now lends itself to taking a systematic, proactive approach to understanding the structures and replication pathways needed to develop vaccines, as well as antivirals and other countermeasures, and establishing a “prototype pathogen approach to pandemic preparedness.”

The labor, he proposed, could be divided between pathogen specialists, supported by systems and groups, that could perform and consolidate the core research specific to the pathogen class.

[The story continues for subscribers on p. 2. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, IPQ has made the full story openly available on its new website, IPQ.org. Nonsubscribers can get information on individual and organization-wide subscriptions by contacting Peter Blachly ([email protected]).]

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