Anthony K Mbonye
Uganda, like many other countries, have announced plans to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 virus. To develop a new vaccine requires huge investment in research and product development competency. Vaccines that we use today are the product of discovery and development processes during past decades.
The aim of the research and product development process is to design effective and consistent methods for the identification and production of potential vaccines, test them for safety and efficacy in preclinical studies, and establish their efficacy in human populations.
In the research and development process, there is a clear responsibility to adhere to and be guided by a structured framework that includes registration requirements of the new vaccine. There is also need to ensure adherence to the ethics, safety, and high quality of the research, manufacturing, and clinical development.
During the past few decades, scientific advances in fields such as biotechnology, immunology, bioinformatics, genomics, and proteomics and the development of DNA-based and peptide-based vaccine technologies have provided large numbers of potential new molecules that can be selected for vaccine development. Thus, Uganda needs to invest in these areas in order to have capacity for developing a new vaccine.
There is also need to invest in preclinical vaccine-testing platforms and animal models (animals that have been genetically altered to exhibit disease symptoms) in order to broaden the range of potential approaches for validating potential vaccines.
It is important to note that it often takes more than 10 years to deliver a final, licensed vaccine, and this requires not only excellence during research and product development, but also managerial and funding commitment throughout the process.
The cost of developing a vaccine - from research and discovery to product registration - has been estimated to be between $200m and $500m per vaccine.
The cost above includes laboratory infrastructure, reagents, supplies, equipment, personnel, management and overhead costs. In short, vaccine research and product development is lengthy, complex, and often laden with several outcome risks.
Thus, it is very strategic to promote collaborative vaccine development initiatives. Because technology exchanges between established and developing institutions, as well as between north and south; and south to south countries, are vital and should be encouraged.
The ultimate goal of these collaborations is to focus attention on the high burden of infectious diseases predominant in most developing countries. The effective engagement of all research communities can ensure that the issues most relevant to health are addressed with the most effective technological innovations available.
In conclusion, if Uganda is to develop an effective and safe vaccine, these are the minimum processes that the country should embark on. Even if Uganda may not succeed with a Covid-19 vaccine, it is worth to begin with investments in the state-of-the-art infrastructure and scientific capacity for future vaccine development.
Initial investments could be initiated at the School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, and at Uganda Virus Research Institute.
Anthony K Mbonye (PhD, FRCP) is a professor at the College of Health Sciences, Makerere University,