Vaccines–once the neglected also ran in big Pharma’s armamentarium of innovations–received top billing at PhRMA’s annual Research and Hope awards held at the Washington Newseum on September 11. More than 200 industry executives, politicians and scientists recognized the accomplishments of three separate teams in developing and building access to preventive vaccines.
Among the honorees were Joe Cohen and Sophie Biernaux of GlaxoSmithKline for their development of an anti-malarial vaccine currently treating children in Sub-Saharan Africa, Douglas Lowy and Peter Schiller of the National Cancer Institute for discovery of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer, and finally Linda Su-Yung Fu, MD for her work at the Children’s National Medical Center in increasing awareness of importance of childhood immunization and her contribution to deliver quality immunization efforts to at-risk populations in inner city Washington.
The ceremony began with remarks from local news reporter Anita Brickman, who stressed the importance of reversing the public’s wavering opinion of immunization as a result of negative media coverage.. John Castellani, CEO of PhRMA, drew on the history of life-saving, preventive vaccines that eradicated smallpox and have all but completely eliminated the threat of rubella, measles, and polio. Robert Hugin, CEO of Celgene Corporation and Chairman of PhRMA, highlighted the quickening pace of medical innovation, pointing out that since its inception in 1935, FDA has approved over 1,500 new molecular entities, with more than 300 innovative therapies since 2000. Hugin emphasized that, 5,000 new drugs are in the R&D global pipelines of PhRMA member companies.
But it was Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Thomas Frieden who captured the energy of the audience by drawing on the words of Nelson Mandela: “Immunization is the most powerful of all preventive measures for children, and is central to human rights and poverty elimination.”
More particularly, Frieden sang the praises of the HPV vaccine for exceeding the CDC’s expectations, driving down infection rates more effectively and rapidly than anyone had anticipated. But he also used the vaccine as an example to show in terms of immunization, there is still a long way to go even for developed countries such as the US. “In this country only one in three of girls gets a full course of the HPV vaccine. In Rwanda, that proportion is 85%. If 85% of girls in America did the same, over the course of the lifetime of girls ages 0-12 today, there would be 50,000 fewer cases of cervical cancer. And for every year we delay there will be 4,400 more cases of cancer despite the best we can do with screening and pap smears.”
The event was a testament to the soft spot that pharma now holds in its heart for the ways in which immunization, as a global public good, serves to “eliminate suffering and to accelerate human and economic progress,” as Hugin put it.
Tune in to PharmExec TV for more coverage of the event in the coming weeks, with guest interviews with John Castellani, Robert Hugin, and Sophie Biernaux of GSK’s Malaria Vaccine team.