According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Covid-19 pandemic has claimed between 13 and 17 million lives worldwide by the end of 2021. To avoid further tragedies, research is preparing for future epidemics and pandemics that may occur in the years to come. The ANRS held a press conference on the subject this Wednesday. For the experts, it was an opportunity to take stock of the management of Covid-19 while reflecting on the need to better understand future diseases. An imperative has emerged: providing sufficient funding to anticipate potential emerging infectious diseases.
Expect to respond better
In the health field, innovations require “absolute rigor”, recalled Roger Le Grand, director of the department “Infectious Disease Models for Innovative Therapies” at the CEA in the preamble. This rigor implies that an “incompressible” development time is required to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment and the possibility of its development in society. In this context, it is important to know how to anticipate in order to be able to react more quickly to the emergence of a new epidemic. During the Covid-19 epidemic, prior knowledge of messenger RNA enabled the rapid development of a vaccine, Roger Le Grand recalls: “We had no proof of the concept of the vaccine antigen, but we had proof of the feasibility of this concept up to very advanced stages”.
But to be able to anticipate, financial resources are required, especially in the period between crises. “We can’t start thinking about setting up clinical trials when the pandemic is here. Funding in this period between crises is very important, as well as easily mobilized resources,” stresses France Mentré, Director of the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Clinical Research at the Bichat-Claude Bernard Hospital (AP-HP).
Public funding, crucial
Public money and the resources invested by public policies are crucial, as manufacturers are often reluctant to start experiments with no return for their funding. A way of working that partly explains the failure of Sanofi or Merck laboratories to produce an anti-Covid vaccine in time. “In view of the public health problems that existed before the Covid crisis, it was a significant risk for a large industrialist to embark on this messenger RNA technology. There was uncertainty about the possibility of going through with it, entering the market, finding these investments, analyzes Roger Le Grand. RNA vaccines were originally made by SMEs like Moderna because they were already positioned in a small niche, cancer vaccines, and benefited from a lot of public support to keep their research and development going.”
Yazdan Yazdanpanah, Director of ANRS, regrets this situation: “I think we need to change the culture that all funding has to succeed. We need to introduce risk into funding and accept that some will not be successful.” As a first step to gain a better understanding, the historical ANRS budget was reviewed. “The target is 80 million euros per year, ie 40 million for HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis and 40 million for emerging infectious diseases. We’re not far from it, we just have to keep up the part of the emerging infectious diseases,” reveals Yazdan Yazdanpanah.