Getting vaccines to people who need them most in developing countries is extremely challenging, not least because vaccines must be transported and stored under controlled refrigerated temperature conditions, referred to as “the cold-chain”.
For example, running immunisation programmes in remote regions of Pakistan or Nigeria means transporting vaccines long distances, often in regions where road networks and electricity supply are weak or unreliable and weather conditions are often harsh.
The global push to eradicate polio is a classic example of how difficult it can be to get the vaccine under proper storage conditions to the people in rural villages. Now, the EU believes that the innovation that went into developing vaccines must be matched by innovative ways to ensure they can be moved around the world without compromising on safety or effectiveness.
That’s where the European Commission’s new innovation prize comes in. EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, has unveiled
The prize was announced by at the third Innovation in Healthcare conference in Brussels. It is the first time the European Commission has offered a so-called inducement prize to stimulate research and innovation.
Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said similar incentives had been offered by governments and philanthropists in the past and she promised more such schemes as part of an effort to highlight the need for innovative solutions to societal challenges.
“Most Europeans are protected from infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and measles thanks to widespread use of vaccination, but many people in tropical and developing countries cannot benefit from these great achievements of medicine,” the Commission said in a statement.
Vaccines are often rendered ineffective by temperature variations in these regions during transport and storage, long before they can be administered. The World Health Organisation estimates that half of all supplied vaccine doses are wasted due to an inadequate cold-chain.
Patricia Reilly, a member of Geoghegan-Quinn’s cabinet, said the winning invention could be an alternative formulation of vaccines, alternative transportation techniques, an improvement of existing technologies or perhaps something that nobody has thought of before.
“That’s the beauty of it: it’s entirely open,” she said.
Individual inventors, scientists, companies large and small, and consortiums, can register their interest until April 30.
“Vaccination is among the greatest successes we’ve developed in recent years and can have a major effect not just on health but on economic growth. Cracking this problem could be a really game-changing innovation,” Reilly said.
Frequently asked questions on the Vaccine Innovation Prize