Cold Chain IQ Exclusive: European Commission's Director on Vaccine Development

Posted: 10/02/2012
Dr. Ruxandra Draghia-Akli
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Announced in April 2012 and kindly referenced in the pages of news in August, I am pleased to have the opportunity to update the Cold Chain IQ network on developments with the European Commission’s vaccine prize, in the hope that some will enter and compete – if they have not already done so!

In launching the prize earlier this year, the Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Mâire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "Many people in tropical and developing countries cannot benefit from life-saving vaccines because they are damaged before they can reach them. The goal of this prize is to galvanise scientists into producing innovations which can solve this global health problem". Readers of Cold Chain IQ will be well aware of the challenges posed in successfully delivering vaccines, in particular in developing countries. It is for that reason that we are inviting applications which demonstrate the most widely applicable improvement over current cold chain technologies for maintaining vaccine integrity in formulation, preservation and transportation.

Cold Chain IQ readers may not, however be aware that this represents a departure from the European Commission’s usual way of supporting research and innovation. As we move towards Horizon 2020, a central part of the Innovation Union flagship policy, we are seeking not only to provide greater support to Europe’s innovators, but also to innovate in our own practices. That is why, inspired by the X-prize foundation and on the basis of expert guidance provided by the WHO, the European Centre for Disease Control and the academic world, we have launched this vaccine prize, the winner of which will receive €2 million. In a break from tried and tested forms of European collaborative research funding, individuals can apply, though teams are also welcome. Applicants are also welcome to submit their applications with a great degree of freedom – only a page limit is specified.

Why are we trying this new method to induce innovation? With a budget of €6.1 billion euros for the period 2007-2013, my department (within the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission) manages the largest supra-national fund for health research in the world and has so far invested nearly than €200 million in projects supporting vaccine research or related immunization issues see 1. for more details on the programme in general. All of these projects are characterised by a process that most researchers would be familiar with; an application is submitted in response to a call for proposals which is then evaluated on the basis of peer review and funding awarded to the best proposals. This method of working is tried and tested, and delivers results: euro for euro, our Framework Programme Seven Health programme is estimated to deliver real benefits in terms of highly cited publications and licensed patents, as well as in terms of job and small business creation.

But on occasion, some problems are particularly intractable, or might require insights from outside the usual research community. I believe that this problem is one such challenge and that a competition might just lead to that spark of inspiration needed to enable us to make a leap forwards. After all, we have inducement competitions to thank for such diverse breakthroughs as long distance navigation at sea, tinned food and the popularisation of transatlantic flight!

I kindly invite readers who may have a bright idea to visit the competition website, read the rules and register their interest. Anyone who wants to compete should register to do so before 30 April 2013, with a closing date for applications of 03 September 2013.

1. see J. Sautter et al. / Vaccine 29 (2011) 6723– 6727 for more details, as well as for more details on the programme in general.

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