Technology Letter: End-goal is a technology that fights all pathogens

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Hannah Kuchler’s article “Preparing for the next pandemic” (Big Read, August 19) raises important questions about pandemics and public health threat preparedness.

The past decade since the influenza virus H1N1, and the past 18 months in particular, have taught us a great deal. As one expert notes, keeping factories at a ready state in the “inter-pandemic period” is critical. Maintaining partially publicly funded facilities designed to surge in response to public health threats is hard. It requires consistent investment from government and private industry — commercial contracts alone are not enough and burdening taxpayers with full preparedness costs is a significant challenge given the many government priorities.

In the US, of the four manufacturing facilities the government funded, Emergent’s is the only one that has supplied vaccine drug substance to help vaccinate tens of millions of people around the world.

We disagree with those advocating throwing out everything that has been learnt over the past decade. While this approach has not provided as many doses as quickly as we, or anyone else, would have liked, the manufacturing capability in the country is greater today than in 2009. Further expansion is necessary, but it requires more investment in preparedness than the government has been willing to make.

We also object to the characterisation of us, as cited by the article, as “yesteryear’s technology”. Vaccine manufacturing is complex, and advancements are not as simple as the next upgrade download. Thankfully, several technology platforms have proven effective in developing antibodies to help protect people against the coronavirus.

Importantly, despite over a century of research, no one has yet developed a platform technology that works against all pathogens. We’re all still searching for that, but until and unless that happens, an effective national preparedness strategy needs to be able to rapidly manufacture products based on many different types of technology.

We’re not out of this pandemic yet and Emergent’s priority remains manufacturing as much vaccine as quickly as we can. We look forward to using our experience to help shape and improve our public health systems.

Adam Havey
Chief Operating Officer
Emergent BioSolutions
Gaithersburg, MD, US

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