Over 200 years ago, the first vaccine was created to protect against smallpox, an infectious disease that had afflicted humanity for centuries. That discovery opened the door to a golden period of vaccine development that has led to extraordinary improvements in worldwide public health. Today, vaccine development continues to thrive as scientists advance technologies and approaches to reach more people in new ways. Over the years, our understanding of the immune system has grown considerably. We are now learning how to not only prevent infectious diseases, but also how to train the immune system to assist in fighting non-infectious diseases. The possibilities are boundless as vaccines can be potentially used to treat allergic asthma, to help smokers kick their habit, and to fight off cancerous cells. Here’s a helpful video on the evolution of vaccine research
As vaccine technology continues to advance, we are working towards the development of novel vaccines in areas of continued medical need. Patients being hospitalized represent a particularly vulnerable population. People often arrive at the hospital feeling preoccupied with the medical need that brought them there in the first place, hoping their surgeries or treatments go well and anxious to get better. What they don’t expect is to leave the hospital with an additional ailment. Each year, hundreds of millions of patients around the world are affected by hospital-acquired infections[i]. These infections, caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium difficile, are highly debilitating and often life threatening. To make matters worse, hospital-acquired infections are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Therefore, in addition to inventing new ways to treat these deadly infections after they occur, we must also look to developing vaccines to prevent the infections in the first place. As an example, a patient planning an elective surgery would be given a S. aureus vaccine within a defined period prior to surgery to allow protective immune responses to develop. These immune responses could then prevent the patient from contracting the infection during surgery by killing any bacteria that may enter the body during the surgical procedure. If effective, such a vaccine has the potential to greatly reduce the burden of the infection in hospitals, and would potentially save numerous lives of patients who experience infection with treatment-resistant bacteria. When I began my career 30 years ago as a virologist, it was just becoming clear that AIDS was caused by the HIV virus. I had the opportunity to work on developing one of the first highly active anti-HIV therapies that protected infected individuals against disease progression. The experience of seeing the impact of these therapies on those afflicted by the infection was gratifying. In a similar way, over the years, I have been fortunate to experience again and again the immediate and profound impact that newly developed vaccines have had on infectious disease burdens, both on the individual and population levels. As the potential for vaccines continues to expand with scientific and technological advances, I hope to continue these experiences well into the future.
To read more about Pfizer’s vaccine R&D: http://www.pfizer.com/research/therapeutic_areas/vaccines [i]