Vaccine Science and Policy Experts Call for Transformation of Vaccine R&D Enterprise

May 4, 2021

Report launch accompanied by May 5 panel discussion on the future of the global ecosystem for vaccine R&D

Mary Beth Wooden
Vice President, Communications
Sabin Vaccine Institute
+1 (202) 842-5025 |

Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Aspen Institute 

Washington, DC, May 4, 2021 – As the world continues to grapple with the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global community faces an urgent need to develop an efficient, coordinated and sustainable model for a healthy and well-functioning vaccine research and development (R&D) ecosystem.

In a new report, “Powering Vaccine R&D: Opportunities for Transformation,” the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group uses lessons learned from the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines to explore opportunities to overhaul vaccine R&D practices to better prepare for the next pandemic, to make strides against diseases currently without vaccines, and to establish next-generation vaccines that offer meaningful improvements.

“The COVID pandemic and the rapid development of vaccines to fight SARS-CoV-2 have heightened our sense of urgency that the time has come to evolve and reform the vaccine R&D ecosystem with the goal of creating a world free of vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Shirley M. Tilghman, PhD, co-chair of the Group and president emeritus and professor emeritus of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs at Princeton University.

“This report reflects our group’s end-to-end thinking on vaccine science and policy, from continued innovation in developing and deploying vaccines, through equitable distribution of vaccines in low- and middle-income countries, to overcoming vaccine hesitancy and realizing the full benefit of vaccines to individuals, families, and society,” adds Harvey V. Fineberg, MD, PhD, co-chair of the Group and president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Despite remarkable accomplishments in recent years, including the new vaccine development platforms that have enabled the rapid response to COVID-19, challenges and structural barriers remain hat have slowed the development of new and improved vaccines. The report focuses on five “Big Ideas” that aim to stimulate a more efficient and responsive approach to vaccine research and development:

  • Define leadership roles, responsibilities, and mechanisms of accountability to prepare for the R&D demands that surface in a pandemic, including a leadership model that engages diverse stakeholders, expertise and institutions from across the globe.
  • Propel a transdisciplinary research effort to expand and advance vaccine science, including support for a research infrastructure that creates opportunities for novel and high-risk/high-reward ideas, leverages lessons from other scientific areas, ranging from the chemistry and physics of vaccine formulation to the immunologic basis of protection, and creates two-way learning opportunities between research focused on pandemics and on longstanding endemic diseases.
  • Restructure regulatory science to reflect advances in vaccine R&D to make vaccine trials faster, nimbler, and more cost-effective as well as to enhance product scale-up and manufacturing and post-market surveillance.
  • Reimagine clinical trials to feature equity and efficiency as prime drivers, with lower- and middle-income countries as full partners in clinical trial development at every stage.
  • Position vaccines as a public good and align incentives so that benefits accrue to all sectors of society, including a strong push to develop or maintain policies and practices that promote information sharing and collaborative problem-solving.

These recommendations offer the opportunity to advance and accelerate vaccine development and should be a critical part of any effort to reexamine and restructure the R&D component of the vaccine/vaccination ecosystem, a particularly relevant undertaking as the world continues to address and learn lessons from the COVID-19 response.

“The rapid generation and distribution of effective COVID-19 vaccines have demonstrated the efficiency that can be achieved through heightened collaboration, cooperation and data sharing across multiple contributing disciplines,” said Bob Tepper, Group member and co-founder and partner at Third Rock Ventures. “This offers a blueprint for the future where worldwide coordination of scientific, clinical, regulatory and distribution efforts must be established as the new norm.”

The Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group is a partnership which brings together senior leaders across many disciplines to examine some of the most challenging vaccine-related issues and drive impactful change. The meeting of the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group and its research and report were funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.


About Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group

The Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group, a partnership launched in 2018 between the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Aspen Institute, brings together senior leaders across many disciplines to examine some of the most challenging vaccine-related issues and drive impactful change. Members are influential, creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who vigorously probe a single topic each year and develop actionable recommendations to advance innovative ideas for the development, distribution and use of vaccines, as well as evidence-based and cost-effective approaches to immunization.

About the Sabin Vaccine Institute

The Sabin Vaccine Institute is a leading advocate for expanding vaccine access and uptake globally, advancing vaccine research and development, and amplifying vaccine knowledge and innovation. Unlocking the potential of vaccines through partnership, Sabin has built a robust ecosystem of funders, innovators, implementers, practitioners, policy makers and public stakeholders to advance its vision of a future free from preventable diseases. As a non-profit with more than two decades of experience, Sabin is committed to finding solutions that last and extending the full benefits of vaccines to all people, regardless of who they are or where they live. At Sabin, we believe in the power of vaccines to change the world. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter, @SabinVaccine.

About the Aspen Institute and its Health, Medicine & Society Program

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners.

Established in 2005, the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine & Society Program brings together influential groups of thought leaders, decision-makers, and the informed public to consider health challenges facing the U.S. in the 21st century and to identify practical solutions for addressing them. For more information, visit

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