White House Science Chief Wants to Nullify Next Pandemic Within 100 Days
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Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and newly appointed science adviser for the White House, said in a recent interview that he wants to have an available vaccine that can fight the next pandemic in about 100 days after recognizing the initial outbreak.
The nation’s top science adviser believes the country’s renewed enthusiasm for science may pave the way for plug-and-play vaccines that can nullify the next pandemic before it starts.
“This is a moment in so many ways, not just health, that we can rethink fundamental assumptions about what’s possible and that’s true of climate and energy and many areas,” Lander said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Lander, whose official role is director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, notes that he is currently not focused on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic but rather on lessons gained from COVID-19 that could be applied to another health crisis.
“It was amazing at one level that we were able to produce highly effective vaccines in less than a year, but from another point of view you’d say, ‘Boy, a year’s a long time,’” Lander said.
To accomplish the 100-day target for vaccine readiness, scientists are in the process of developing “all-purpose ready-to-go platform technologies” for vaccine candidates that can be employed for future novel viral outbreaks. These “plug-and-play” vaccines can undergo the necessary research in record time, having the foundation already laid out for them well in advance. Rather than employing the germ or virus itself to develop the vaccine, these platform technologies rely on messenger RNA, allowing scientists to simply add the genetic code for the virus when the time comes.
In addition to using these vaccine candidates to combat the next potential global pandemic, Lander pondered how this technology could play a role in cancer treatment.
“Maybe the same sort of experience about moving so much faster than we thought is applicable to cancer,” Lander said. He added that the pandemic, along with its increased utilization of telehealth platforms, has created “a world where we rearrange a lot of things” to arrive at a patient-centered approach to care.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) announced the launch of a program to initiate the development of similar technologies for future pandemics. Under the initiative, the BARDA Division of Research, Innovation, and Ventures (DRIVe) will lend support to BARDA Ventures in collaboration with the Global Health Investment Corporation. BARDA Ventures agreed to provide GHIC with $50 million over five years and a potential $500 million over 10 years.
Xavier Becerra, HHS Secretary, noted that the BARDA Ventures partnership represents "an innovative, cost-effective approach" that places the nation "on a better path to take on the next public health crisis and improve US health care." DRIVe director, Sandeep Patel, added that the new program engages entrepreneurial organizations and research communities “further to make an immediate impact on global health security."