Here’s a daunting question: what is your proudest work-related accomplishment?
When that question was posed to me at a recent Washington Global Health Alliance dinner, several answers came to mind, but I landed on one specific example because it best shows the impact of the work we do here at IDRI and why I chose to work in the field of global health.
To me, it’s difficult to overestimate the importance of building capacity for in-country vaccine development and production.
Six years ago, IDRI began to transfer our adjuvant technology to Gennova Biopharmaceuticals, a leading Indian biotech company. As you may know, adjuvants are key components of today’s vaccines, boosting effectiveness by stimulating the immune system. They can also improve a vaccine’s reach through ‘dose-sparing’ – reducing the amount of vaccine needed for a dose and increasing the available doses of a vaccine supply many times over.
Within about a year’s time, Gennova built a new facility in Pune, India, and we completed the transfer of our technology, including training scientists in adjuvant manufacture and quality control. Last year, Gennova shipped us the first batches of adjuvants made under current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) at their site in India. They sent us some vials to check through our quality control (QC) procedures.
Those adjuvants passed QC with flying colors and now Gennova can make adjuvants for use in vaccine trials for malaria, leishmaniasis, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. This means they are now self-sufficient and can help solve infectious disease issues in India, without reliance on the developed world.
In Romania, teaching scientists how to produce adjuvants.
Most importantly, this technology transfer prepares the world to be better able to respond in case of a pandemic. In 2009, I remember waiting, for hours, in a line that stretched around the block trying to get a pandemic flu vaccination for my daughter. If vaccine supplies were short here in the developed world, imagine what it must have been like in the developing world, where people were waiting for help that didn’t come.
Now we are enabling countries to produce adjuvants and develop their own vaccines. And, in case of a pandemic, we’ll need multiple adjuvant producers to cover all needs, so developing countries will play a key role in protecting the entire world.
I believe the issues of global health are going to be best solved with local input and leadership. In addition to India, we’ve transferred adjuvant technologies into Brazil, Romania and now Africa. The people in the countries where infectious diseases are most burdensome understand the problems best and can respond better to local needs. They have great scientists, but often lack resources and technologies. That’s where we can help.
Transferring technology is empowering and that’s an accomplishment I am proud to say I’m a part of.