“Vaccines are one of the most effective public health interventions we have. Preventing disease is preferable to having to treat it.” – Dr. Yasmeen Agosti, Global Medical Affairs Lead, Viral Vaccines at Pfizer
As Global Medical Affairs Lead, Viral Vaccines at Pfizer, Dr. Yasmeen Agosti researches a little-known—yet highly contagious, and in some cases fatal—disease called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Across the world, RSV affects 33 million children globally and leads to approximately 120,000 childhood deaths every year. More than 90% of all RSV-associated deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and the World Health Organization has indicated that the development of an RSV vaccine is a high priority. In the United States, approximately 177,000older adults are hospitalized annually because of RSV. More challenging, once a person contracts RSV, physicians have very few treatment options except oxygen and hydration support.
Dr. Agosti is part of a team working to develop a maternal vaccine that, if successful in clinical trials and approved by regulatory agencies, would be delivered to mothers during pregnancy to help provide protection against RSV from day-one of life. Because RSV is the most frequent cause of serious respiratory tract infection in infants and young children, such a vaccine, if approved, could significantly alter the trajectory of this disease.
The Driving Force
Dr. Agosti began her career as a pediatrician, practicing in Philadelphia and, later, conducting clinical research in South Africa. In both places, she remembers seeing the devastating impact RSV could have in infants and their families—particularly those living under harsh socio-economic conditions.
“During my time as a pediatrician, I remember caring for so many infants afflicted by RSV, but I felt helpless because I could do so little to alleviate their suffering,” says Dr. Agosti. “It became clear that there was a need for a safe and effective form of protection that starts from the day infants are born.”
After her time in South Africa, Dr. Agosti joined Pfizer’s medical team in 2017, a step, she says, which “really brought together all of the work I been a part of to date.”
Challenges and Looking Ahead
For decades, a successful RSV vaccine has eluded the global health community, but recent discoveries about the virus’s surface protein structures have jumpstarted a new era of research and provided insights that have helped researchers at Pfizer select a promising target for vaccine development.
But before becoming viable products, vaccine candidates must first undergo rigorous testing to ensure safety and effectiveness. This process typically relies on pre-clinical testing as well as clinical trials with thousands of participants and can last up to 10-15 years.
“At Pfizer, safety is our top priority,” says Dr. Agosti. “We work closely with regulators and safety review boards throughout the research and evaluation process for our vaccines.”
As she looks toward the future, Dr. Agosti says she is excited not only for the expanding research into the potential for vaccines to prevent RSV, but also global collaborative efforts to disperse these discoveries among low-income populations.
“If we look back at history, we can see the tremendous impact vaccines have had in preventing diseases like polio, tetanus and others,” she says. “I’d like to see the same thing happen for RSV and other diseases.”
GET THE LATEST IN INNOVATION NEWS
Innovation is headed to your inbox.
Subscribe to receive the latest in medical innovation, treatment insights, and inspirational stories.