Health and Healthcare Systems

Outsmarting epidemics

Manufacturing Associates Theodore Szmurlo (L) and David Artus work in a cell culture room where they are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus based on production of recombinant variations of the E protein from the Zika virus at the Protein Sciences Inc. headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut, U.S., June 20, 2016.

Inside a laboratory that's working on a vaccine for the Zika virus Image: REUTERS/Mike Segar

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Global Health

This is part of a series of articles exploring the role the World Economic Forum has played in supporting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ahead of our Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York. Goal 3 is good health and well-being.

The new Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is ensuring that vaccines are ready to fight future outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola and Zika.

The challenge

Today, diseases such as Ebola and Zika can spread so quickly that vaccines cannot be developed fast enough to save lives.

Vaccine development is a laborious process, usually taking over ten years. It is rarely a priority for pharmaceutical companies due to comparatively low commercial returns.

However, the effects of infectious diseases can be devastating and the poorest countries tend to suffer the most. For example, the most recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed an estimated 11 million people. The economic impact is also immense, with infectious disease epidemics estimated to cost the world $60 billion each year.

The strategy

CEPI is a new alliance between governments, industry, academia, philanthropy, intergovernmental institutions, such as the World Health Organization, and civil society. It seeks to stimulate, finance and coordinate vaccine development for known infectious threats, particularly in cases that are not profitable enough for commercial sector action.

CEPI will seek to ensure vaccines are ready before epidemics break out. It will reduce the time needed to develop new vaccines through new technology, and by investing in facilities that can initiate speedy responses to previously unknown pathogens.

The Impact

Up and running in 2017, CEPI has selected three diseases – MERS, Lassa and Nipah – as its first priorities. These were selected due to the potential public health impact, risk of outbreaks and feasibility of vaccine development.

CEPI has received an initial investment of $540 million from the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway, and the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust. The European Commission and India are also planning contributions.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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