In the United States, 16 diseases are now preventable as a result of childhood vaccines, resulting in an estimated $1.4 trillion in societal costs saved. Worldwide, vaccines have eliminated naturally-occurring smallpox completely, and in most countries, polio has been eliminated as well. These successes motivate today’s biopharmaceutical researchers to continue pursuing vaccine products, and today, there are 264 vaccines in development, including 137 for infectious diseases.
One of the researchers working to extend the boundaries of vaccines is Dr. Judith Absalon, senior medical director of Pfizer’s vaccine clinical research & development unit, where she acts as the clinical lead of the Group B Streptoccocus (GBS) vaccine program. She has also worked on a vaccine to prevent meningitis in adolescents and young adults.
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor,” Dr. Absalon says. “Infectious disease has always intrigued me because I thought I could have a big impact.”
Using promising new scientific approaches, researchers are building on the successful history of vaccination against infectious diseases to tackle viral diseases with no prevention options such as Zika and Ebola. In addition, advances in areas such as genomics are enabling researchers to develop therapeutic vaccines for many non-infectious diseases and conditions, including some forms of cancer. Currently, there are three oral therapeutic vaccines approved to treat grass and ragweed allergies and one therapeutic vaccine for prostate cancer, with many more in development.
The impact is indeed huge, as vaccines have helped save an estimated $9.9 billion in direct health care costs. But it’s the public health victories – ranging from smallpox to measles – that illustrate the far greater contributions vaccines are making both in the United States and around the world.