Thank you for Subscribing to Life Science Review Weekly Brief
What if an influenza pandemic were declared tomorrow? Would it be different from the current coronavirus pandemic? The same as the seasonal flu we experience every year? How could we best prepare governments and their healthcare systems to protect public health?
Marc Lacey, Seqirus’ Global Pandemic Head, is charged with finding long term responses to these questions and more. He’s spent his career studying pandemic dynamics from an industry and public health perspective.
At Seqirus, Marc’s role involves partnering with governments to support their pandemic readiness and emergency response plans.
“Pandemic preparedness is about continuous surveillance and risk assessment of the pandemic pathogen underpinned by robust planning.
The world has experienced four influenza pandemics since the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. Each new pandemic presents a different challenge. Beyond the considerable toll on mental and physical health, demand on healthcare services and risks to employment security, pandemics place a heavy burden on national economies. The 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic is estimated to have cost over 45 billion dollars and whilst the full cost of the Covid-19 pandemic cannot yet be quantified, a 2021 National Audi Office report estimated costs at over one third of a trillion pounds (£372 billion). At first glance these sums seem like distant evaluations but broken down, they amount to approximately £9700 per household.
Pandemic preparedness therefore, is about grappling with these uncertainties and leaning on strategies we know to be effective. These include tracking the pandemic virus strain (including surveillance and testing), reducing its spread (for example through social distancing) and reducing the impact of the pathogen with an effective vaccine.
This is where a pandemic influenza differs from seasonal influenza.
While preparations for seasonal influenza involve a well-established annual cycle of development, production and distribution, preparing for influenza pandemics challenges manufacturers to tackle a new and unpredictable virus strain circulating the globe at an unknown date.
To manage this uncertainty, our focus must be on planning and preparedness.
We don’t know when a pandemic will be declared but we do know that protecting public health will require effective vaccines.
A successful vaccination campaign requires an established vaccine platform that is ready to incorporate a new pandemic strain of influenza. This is important to ensure that safe and effective vaccines can be deployed at speed, to large populations. These vaccines must be supported by a flexible regulatory system that can approve them quickly. In tandem, manufacturing facilities, robust supply chains and raw material stockpiles, should be ramped up quickly to meet growing demand.
Pandemic preparedness is about continuous surveillance and risk assessment of the pandemic pathogen underpinned by robust planning
What can we do today, to be ready for the influenza pandemic of tomorrow?
Seqirus is working with more than 30 governments across the globe to ensure they are ready.
These relationships are built on trust and a shared commitment to follow the science and achieve optimum pandemic preparedness to mitigate risks and provide a choice of countermeasures.
Governments cannot do this alone, neither can industry. It is essential to involve all relevant governmental and non-governmental stakeholders in this process, including international organisations, scientists, and manufacturing experts to agree on common standards and the investment required to build an equitable and long-term approach for the global response.
Public-private partnerships enable strong vaccine R&D collaborations and the establishment of domestic manufacturing capabilities. Other partnerships are based on procurement, such as building pre-pandemic vaccine stockpiles and advance purchase agreements.
What have we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown what is possible when stakeholders join in common purpose to protect public health across the globe. The results have been admirable and work must continue so that all populations are protected.
Seqirus was able to play some part in these efforts by manufacturing AZ1222, the AstraZeneca SARS-COV-2 vaccine in Australia, by expanding our production of seasonal influenza vaccine and by providing our well-established MF59 adjuvant to other companies with vaccines in development. This is designed to enhance the immune system response to the antigen in the vaccine. Adjuvants also reduce the amount of antigen required to produce an immune response, enabling more vaccines to be produced more rapidly. This is critical in a pandemic situation.
Our parent company CSL Behring is also engaged in a number of initiatives to aid in the fight against COVID-19, including forming alliances with other companies to explore new approaches.
A look ahead
We should take the opportunity from our learnings in the Covid-19 pandemic where we can sharpen our focus in readiness for the next potential pandemic. Governments are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of effective pandemic preparedness. Now is our chance to ensure that we work together so we are ready for the next unpredictable pathogen that comes our way.”