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Pharma companies blocked 2017 EU fast-track vaccine proposal: report

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  • A 2017 proposal that would speed up vaccine production in the EU was blocked by major pharmaceutical companies, The Guardian reported.
  • The proposal would fund improvements to testing, potentially allowing approval to be fast-tracked and for vaccines against viruses like the novel coronavirus to be developed before an outbreak begins.
  • But it was rejected by the pharmaceutical companies on the IMI, a body dedicated to improving the EU’s pharmaceutical research.
  • Representatives of a group that includes GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson are part of that body, The Guardian reported.
  • The IMI rejected the claim that it has focused on other illnesses to the detriment of the coronavirus, pointing to investments it has made in vaccines and in light of the Ebola outbreak.
  • Companies are now rushing to try and create an effective vaccine to tackle the pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies blocked a 2017 EU proposal that could allow vaccines against viruses like the novel coronavirus to be developed before an outbreak begins, The Guardian reported.

Representatives of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, who sat on a body dedicated to improving the bloc’s pharmaceutical research put forward the proposal that could help fast-track vaccines, but the major drugmakers on the body rejected it.

The Guardian reported that the commission’s argument had been that the research could “facilitate the development and regulatory approval of vaccines against priority pathogens, to the extent possible before an actual outbreak occurs.”

coronavirus vaccine vial oxford vaccine group

A vaccine candidate used in a clinical trial in Oxford, England, in April 2020.

Sean Elias/Handout via Reuters


The governing board of the body, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), includes representatives of a group that includes GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson as members.

The proposal would have involved improving computer simulations and testing analysis that would give more information and allow more confidence in approving vaccines, according to The Guardian.

But a new report from Brussels-based research and campaign group the Corporate Observatory Europe, which contains the revelation about the 2017 proposal, claims the IMI has been overly focused on the market and has not adequately addressed diseases like coronaviruses as a result. 

The IMI receives funding from the EU as well as contributions from private bodies, giving it a budget of €5 billion ($54.4 billion).

The Guardian reported that the IMI also decided to not help funding projects that wanted to fight coronaviruses like MERS and SARS.

An IMI spokeswoman told The Guardian that vaccines and such diseases are a priority for the group, and pointed to a €20 million bioprepardness project launched after the 2015 pandemic, as well as new funding for vaccines released in January.

She said that the CEO report falsely “seems to suggest the IMI has failed in its mission to protect the European citizen by letting pass an opportunity to prepare society for the current Covid pandemic.”

coronavirus vaccine trial participant clinical

A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller, left, the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press


“This is misleading in two ways: the research proposed by the EC in the biopreparedness topic was small in scope, and focused on revisiting animal models and developing in silico models to better define/anticipate the type and level of immune response elicited in animals and humans in order to increase regulators’ confidence in the evidence base for alternative licensing procedures,” she said.

She said the IMI has helped prepare for this pandemic through previous funding for infectious diseases.

She also added that the 2017 proposal was competing with other research at the time, like research into tuberculosis and auto-immune diseases.

But the CEO report questioned the group’s focus on treatments for diseases like cancer and diabetes, given the huge focus already being given to those treatments by governments and pharmaceutical countries around the world.

Companies around the world are rushing to try and create an effective vaccine for the coronavirus, but there is no guarantee of success. Even the fastest vaccine rolllout in history would still mean nothing would be approved for months.

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