As we age, our immune system weakens. With older people more prone to infection, a friendly handshake or a hug between a grandchild and grandparent could potentially lead to serious consequences.
To help protect older populations from these health risks, scientists around the world are laser focused on unearthing medical discoveries that can bolster immune strength.
Respiratory infectious diseases are a particular concern for the ageing population. These common infections, such as the ones caused by the flu virus or pneumococcus bacteria, are easily spread and can often lead to serious health complications in the elderly. One of these diseases is caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which leads to an estimated 160,000 deaths globally each year,1 and is one of the few major infectious diseases currently without a vaccine for prevention. In fact, solutions for RSV have evaded scientists for generations leaving millions of older adults exposed globally each year.2
RSV is just one of the major pathogens on the hit list of GSK’s scientists. As one of the leading innovators in the pharmaceutical industry, it has a broad portfolio of vaccine platform technologies and a long heritage in vaccines, dating back to the early 1900s. To date, the company has created vaccines for 23 of the 32 diseases recognised by WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be preventable by vaccination.3,4,5
Now, GSK aims to lead a new generation of vaccine development, with its belief that innovation drives disease prevention. It recently acquired Affinivax, Inc, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company based in Cambridge (Boston, Massachusetts). Phil Dormitzer, GSK’s senior vice president and global head of vaccines R&D based in Boston, says: “The integration of Affinivax’s disruptive technology and scientific talent into GSK, alongside our own scientists, will help us expand our portfolio, with many potential applications against infectious diseases.”
Global attention on the role of vaccines during the past few years has reshaped public awareness around combating infectious diseases. Rather than being viewed solely as a tool to protect children, vaccines are now also considered a preventative tool in healthcare from infancy through adulthood. “The world has a greater and renewed understanding of the value of vaccines, ” says Dr Jamila Louahed, vice president, vaccines R&D, GSK.6
She adds: ”It’s more clear than ever that innovative technologies paired with a deep understanding of life sciences can have a major impact on disease prevention and will help unlock effective vaccines to tackle the world’s biggest health challenges.“
Vaccine innovation is an opportunity to impact health around the globe
The global vaccines market is projected to surge from $61bn in 2021 to $125bn in 2028,7 spurred by several new vaccines including those focusing on respiratory infectious diseases, meningococcal meningitis and other pathogens. This acceleration in investment and attention couldn’t be timelier. As our healthcare systems expand resources to support people living healthier lives, vaccines are set to become an essential part of healthy living by helping to prevent disease.
The number of people aged 60 and above is expected to rise to 2.1bn individuals by 2050, up from 1.4bn in 2030.8 As we get older, our immune strength often begins to fade,9 bringing the threat of more frequent infections and, in some cases, more severe health outcomes.10
In the US alone, the annual healthcare costs of treating four vaccine-preventable diseases – influenza, pertussis, herpes zoster, and pneumococcal disease – are projected to increase from approximately $35bn to $49bn in the next 30 years.11
Vaccines will play a critical role in reducing that burden on healthcare systems.
R&D innovation empowering society to age in a healthier way
Waning strength of the immune system may be an inevitable aspect of getting older, but thanks to breakthroughs in vaccine research and development and the use of disruptive technologies, scientists are identifying new tactics to fight infectious diseases from birth through to adulthood.
Uniting vaccine science with new adjuvant technologies is one approach GSK deploys to be at the forefront of vaccine innovation. Adjuvants help boost a body’s immune response leading to stronger and longer-lasting immunity, improving protection against infections.
The advancement of adjuvants are revolutionising vaccines that target pathogens for which vaccines previously were not effective or available. The successful combination of the right adjuvant and antigen can lead to a faster, more potent, and more durable immune response. This can bring particular benefits to the elderly or immunocompromised, who are vulnerable to infection.
Other new technologies have enabled researchers to deliver a host of new benefits – mRNA vaccines initially developed to combat influenza led to the first licensed mRNA vaccines for Covid-19. Another example of a novel technology that is not yet widely known and has the potential to disrupt the landscape is Multiple Antigen Presenting System (MAPS) platform technology. This technology, key to GSK’s Affinivax acquisition, has initially been directed toward preventing pneumococcal disease caused by a number of different strains of the bacteria.
Living well for longer
These leaps forward in vaccine development are granting scientists the tools to target and get ahead of infectious diseases that have previously escaped prevention solutions.
The importance of such innovations will only intensify in the years to come. As the global population continues to age and knowledge of infectious diseaseincreases, continued investment and research into vaccine innovation will be essential to helping protect as many people as possible – from infancy to old age, and with a focus on those most at risk. There is reason to believe a new era for vaccines is upon us and together we can look ahead with hope for longer, healthier lives.