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Published On September 12, 2016

POLICY

The Next Zika

Vaccines are most helpful before an epidemic hits. So which diseases should researchers prepare for next?

The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus posed a global threat. It also caused Stanley Plotkin, who created the rubella vaccine, to reflect on the way medicine tends to prepare for epidemics. A vaccine for Ebola existed at the time of the outbreak, but a lack of funding and interest meant that it had never been tested in humans. Developing vaccines is costly and time-consuming, and manufacturers are reluctant to pour billions into drugs that may never recoup their investment.

So in July of last year, Plotkin suggested a new approach. He co-authored an opinion piece in The New England Journal of Medicine with Adel Mahmoud, previous president of Merck Vaccines, and Jeremy Farrar, a tropical diseases specialist and director of the Wellcome Trust, and proposed an international vaccine development fund. This would financially support further research into vaccines for diseases for which the consumer demand is currently low.

Since then, the proposed international vaccine development fund has been discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and both the National Academy of Medicine and the Foundation for Vaccine Research have expressed support for the idea. Organizers have been working both to secure funding and to identify where they should start. Among the many candidates for vaccines that health agencies have identified, these 10 diseases are most frequently cited.