1 February 2024

Pandemic Preparedness or Panic Preservation?

As the memories of being locked away following the Covid-19 pandemic start to desert us, Dr. Zoltan Penzes, Ceva’s Global Biological Innovation Director addressed the UK-International Coronavirus network recently asking the question as to whether we are prepared for the next time around. 

Interview with Zoltan and other world-renowned experts in emerging infectious diseases, as they address the question of how we can be better prepared for the next pandemic.

With the call of CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiative) to be prepared to respond to the next Disease X by producing a vaccine in 100-days, he looks if we can compress the time needed to develop and apply effective vaccines to stop the spread of emerging zoonotic diseases. 

People and animals have lived together with Nature for 000’s of years. We share the same pool of diseases. The limestone cave of Lubang Jeriji Saléh, in Indonesia contains the oldest figurative paintings known to man. At least 40,000 years old, they show a trio of rotund cow-like creatures sketched on the wall, demonstrating the enduring nature of the human-animal bond. 
Yet the constant exchange of diseases between animals and people (zoonoses) also meant that a simple virus was recently able to shut down almost our entire, complex world.  
Back in 2010, we wrote our “Together, beyond animal health” vision committing Ceva to become a #OneHealth company. Over a decade later, our new business purpose, develops this thinking further, in this simple sentence: “Together, our passionate people drive innovative health solutions for all animals, contributing to the future of our diverse planet.” 
Influenza (flu) now found widely in the bird and swine populations illustrates perfectly, why we cannot construct walls to protect against future pandemics. 

Take the case of Avian Influenza, which has now become endemic in Europe. The traditional migratory route was for wild birds from Siberia/North Pole to head south across Northern Europe, then mixing with and contaminating open-air production farms.  However, in 2020, the impact of climate change created disruptions on the southern route from South Africa making wild birds stop by and mix with local European birds in cities like Angers in France, contaminating a 20km perimeter around them.   

Government policy in Europe and other parts of the world has been to “stamp out” the problem by culling millions of domestic birds, but this has proved futile, a little like the children’s game of “whack a mole,” always one step behind. 

Innovation is the key to future control of the disease with improved surveillance, biosecurity and vaccination together providing potential solutions. Fortunately, we have a whole portfolio of veterinary vaccines, that are already available to help us. Some of these are more advanced than the currently available human Covid-19 vaccines. For example, the Self-Amplifying mRNA (SAM) vaccines, which are low dosage, making them more suitable and cost effective for veterinary applications. . This technology lends itself to rapid vaccine development, giving strong humoral and cellular immune responses, intrinsic DIVA and “plug & play” systems for livestock, including avian and for example swine applications as well.

Innovation requires this type of paradigm shift, if we are to speed up the availability of vaccines.  According to the Center for Global Development, the average rollout times for human vaccines (from launch to achieve 40% coverage) is 42 years, the record was 14 years (rotavirus) until the extraordinary cooperation we saw with the development of Covid-19 vaccines which took between 327- & 706-days development. Best practice today could result in vaccines being developed in 250 days, still a long way short of the needed 100 days.

Ceva’s experience with Avian influenza H5 vaccine development shows the 100-day target for availability of “pandemic vaccines” is achievable but will require exceptional public-private cooperation. 
In December 2020, the go was given for development of an H5 (duck) vaccine by Ceva management. By May 2021, we had the first laboratory clinical trial results showing good performance and protection with the Respons AI H5 vaccine. The field testing and subsequent approval of the vaccine by the regulatory authorities in France then took another 600+ days. 
The speed of innovation is sometimes under our control, sometimes it is not. Government and non-governmental health authorities have been slow to realise the impact of national legislation, which is often not fitted to the current reality of a disease, that is now endemic. 

Covid-19 highlighted what we can do to speed up the necessary change. UK-ICN is the right type of platform to achieve this. Together, can we seize this opportunity to “be prepared”? 

Collaboration in 47 countries.
You are leaving the country website to access another site in the group. Regulatory constraints and medical practices vary from country to country. Consequently, the information provided on the site in which you enter may not be suitable for use in your country.