Scaling Up Covid-19 Vaccines — from Laboratory R&D to High-Volume Production
Take a look at the extraordinary efforts research labs and pharma production facilities are making to create an effective Covid-19 vaccine.
Yet there are reasons to be optimistic. According to Larry Brilliant, a veteran of the war on smallpox, we have not only made great strides in our understanding of how Covid-19 disease affects the body (pathophysiology)
But finding an effective vaccine is only part of the problem.
The Challenge Of Scaling Up From R&D Into Production
As we have seen with past campaigns that were successful in vaccinating people against terrible diseases (such as polio or smallpox), it's a massive undertaking to scale up production from the relatively small quantities of active vaccine compounds created in the R&D lab to levels of mass production required to support a world-wide public health vaccination campaign that could potentially inoculate hundreds of millions (if not billions) of people.
The story of penicillin is very instructive.
In the early days of World War II, scientists realized that penicillin (first discovered by the Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming in 1928) was potentially significantly more effective against infection than the widely used sulfa drugs at the time — and if it could be used by soldiers, it could boost the war effort by reducing the level of severe or fatal wartime infections that claimed so many lives in WW I.
Under the threat of bombardment from Germany, Oxford University researcher Howard Florey (an Australian) came to the US looking for assistance in producing the drug. Responding to the call for help, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York engaged Charles Pfizer & Co., Eli Lilly & Co., Merck, and other drug firms to ramp up production.
Yet, as late as 1942, US lab researchers evaluating penicillin had only managed to produce two teaspoons of the drug — when one teaspoon was administered to a test patient, the drug was recovered from her urine to complete dosage treatment.
By 1943, the US War Department made the mass production of penicillin its second-highest priority after the development of nuclear weapons.