World Immunization Week Q&A with Dr Marie O’Brien 

World Immunization Week, celebrated in the last week of April, aims to highlight the collective action needed to protect people from vaccine-preventable diseases. Here, our chief scientific officer Dr Marie O’Brien discusses the importance of the event and how ReNewVax is contributing. 

What does World Immunization Week mean for ReNewVax?

WIW is the opportunity to remember and celebrate the lifesaving power of vaccines, something that we often take for granted, especially in high income countries. For ReNewVax, WIW is the opportunity to share how proud we are to be able to contribute towards the development of new or better vaccines against global pathogens such as the pneumococcus.

This year’s theme is ‘The Big Catch-Up’. Why is catching up on lost progress in immunization so important?

According to the WHO, 67 million children around the world have missed out on their routine vaccines, either entirely or partially, between 2019 and 2021. That is the size of the UK population! The catch-up campaign is aimed at ensuring that the most vulnerable populations around the world, are given access to lifesaving vaccines. Importantly, ensuring that children catchup on their routine immunisation will save children’s lives, but will also have a huge benefit on vulnerable populations such as the elderly – a phenomenon often referred to as herd immunity. In the UK alone, the number of working days lost to seasonal flu is estimated at over 4million – these represent sick adults, but also parents who might have to stay home to look after their children. Loss in education, loss in productivity, loss in household income, etc. the impact of infectious disease can be huge on the economy at a global scale.

What is ReNewVax working on, and how will this change the vaccine industry?

ReNewVax’s lead program, RVX-001, is targeted at Streptococcus pneumoniae -also known as the pneumococcus. A major cause of global morbidity and mortality from pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis, S. pneumoniae is the third-leading cause of death from bacterial infection globally and the fourth-leading cause of deaths associated with Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). This is despite the availability of pneumococcal vaccines since 1983, which have generated the largest global market for any vaccine (prepandemic) with estimated 2022 sales of $9.5bn, projected to grow at a CAGR of 8.9% to $14.7bn by 2027 (Mordor Intelligence, 2022). 

Existing vaccine technologies work by inducing immunity to a relatively small subset (10-23), of the ca. 100 different pneumococcus serotypes. Whilst this approach has led to a reduction in serious pneumococcal disease, the inherent limitations of the technology mean that manufacturing is costly – limiting use largely to high income countries (HICs). Coverage against pneumococcus is limited to the 10-23 vaccine serotypes and residual disease burden is significant and growing, with an increasing impact from antimicrobial resistant pneumococcal strains.  

These factors leave important gaps in the market that are fuelling market growth as well as new product development from the dominant players and potential market entrants with an emphasis on improving vaccine coverage or, particularly in the case of middle income countries (MICs), developing generic copies of existing vaccines.

How will ReNewVax contribute to The Big Catch-Up?

Children under the age of of five, immunocompromised individual and the elderly are the most at-risk of developing pneumococcal disease, in both high income and low and middle income countries. At ReNewVax, we are developing a pneumococcal vaccine that will not only offer broader coverage than any other licensed vaccines, but also a vaccine that will be more affordable to low and middle income countries, where the catchup campaign in vulnerable groups will need it the most.