According to a publication by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), vaccines are essential for protecting populations from seasonal and pandemic influenza, yet our current influenza vaccines and vaccination programs fall short.
First, antigenic mismatches can occur between circulating viruses and viruses used for generating strain-specific vaccines, and the vaccines need to be reformulated and readministered annually. Second, even in years with good antigenic matches, vaccine effectiveness is often suboptimal, particularly in the elderly. Third, researchers have yet to unlock the keys to developing influenza vaccines that generate durable immunity—for example, lasting 5 to 10 years. Fourth, researchers also have yet to develop broadly protective vaccines that can protect against multiple strains of influenza, including novel pandemic viruses. Finally, although seasonal influenza vaccines are widely available, many countries—particularly low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)—do not have robust seasonal influenza vaccination programs in place, and vaccine uptake varies across nations and populations. Universal and durable vaccines that protect against all current and future strains of influenza would be a tremendous breakthrough by ensuring that vaccines are readily available in sufficient quantities at the onset of future influenza pandemics.
The Influenza Vaccines R&D Roadmap
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, with support from the Wellcome Trust, has created this globally oriented influenza vaccines research and development (R&D) roadmap (IVR). The IVR is intended to serve as a strategic planning tool to facilitate R&D, coordinate funding, and promote stakeholder engagement in R&D aimed at improving seasonal influenza vaccines and generating new broadly protective or universal influenza vaccines. The impetus for this project came from priorities published in 2019 by the Global Funders Consortium for Universal Influenza Vaccine Development. Key components of the IVR include determining critical issues and challenges for improving vaccines, prioritizing research activities, and identifying a set of realistic goals and aligned milestones in key topic areas. The IVR takes into account the potential for different needs regarding influenza vaccine characteristics in different populations, economies, and geographic regions. Primary audiences include scientific and clinical researchers, funders, public health policymakers, industry scientists and business leaders, regulators, and communications/advocacy specialists. Additional audiences may extend to a wider group of global health leaders, policymakers, and government officials.
The IVR development process has engaged a wide range of stakeholders across scientific disciplines, public and private sectors, and international communities to build consensus on R&D priorities and identify strategies for addressing them. The process has included identifying and reviewing other relevant strategic plans from high-level organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and government entities, discussing scientific challenges and knowledge gaps with a range of subject matter experts (SMEs), and conducting in-depth reviews of draft roadmap documents (including a public comment period for written feedback). After publication and launch of the roadmap, efforts will focus on dissemination (through targeted communication strategies), implementation, and monitoring, evaluation, and adjustment (ME&A) over time.