Opening doors for vaccine access: Linda Nyari reflects on the power of partnering
Insufficient supply and high prices are major factors that can delay the availability of lifesaving vaccines in low-income countries—sometimes for decades following their adoption by wealthy countries. Shortening these timelines and improving accessibility for populations that natural market forces often leave behind takes a collective effort from an intricate web of partners along the vaccine development continuum. Luckily, we know someone who is an expert at building partnerships.
Meet Linda Nyari, director of the commercialization and corporate partnerships team for PATH's vaccine development program, which advances the development of new, affordable vaccines for low-resource countries. Her team of business and legal professionals is responsible for shaping the strategic partnerships that steer a new vaccine's journey from the laboratory to saving the life of a child in need. We sat down with her to get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to set these partnerships up for success.
How does your team help make vaccines accessible for underserved populations?
As a nonprofit organization, PATH doesn't have its own vaccine development laboratories. So for us to accelerate access to new vaccines for our target populations, we have to collaborate with various partners that can develop, manufacture, and distribute the vaccines appropriately. These partners include nonprofit organizations like universities and research institutions, and commercial partners like vaccine manufacturers, biotechnology, and multinational pharmaceutical companies. My team negotiates the agreements to work with these partners—the legal written word that describes how the parties are going to work together. We put provisions in place (such as appropriate license rights or price structures) that keep doors open for the vaccine to become available for underserved populations, while also building in protections to help our partners be successful.
What does success look like?
The objective of our work is to enable a vaccine to be commercially sold at a price that is affordable and sustainable for low-resource countries and to ensure an appropriate supply of the vaccine so that it can be introduced into those countries. Since our work is integral to the partnerships required to achieve these objectives, we engage throughout the entire vaccine development process from preclinical research through to product registration. Critical to success is ensuring the sharing of data, which can help advance a specific vaccine or the larger vaccine development field. A catch phrase that is often used for what we're trying to accomplish through this body of work is ‘global access.'
What is in it for the partners?
Due to perceived difficulties in achieving a return on investment, vaccine developers with good ideas are often reluctant to pursue a vaccine primarily needed in low-resource countries if the countries could have difficulty paying for it. Others may simply need assistance to develop the vaccine or to enter developing-world markets. Our program incentivizes companies to pursue such vaccines by providing donor funds to support the work and technical expertise to help successfully move the development forward.
To take a product forward and actually sell it, you need a champion, and usually that's a for-profit company (either in the developed or developing world). So, we're saying to such partners that they can move forward with whatever business strategy they want in the developed world, as long as the technology is made affordable and accessible for public-sector markets in low-resource countries. Overall, we try to make it a win-win for both sides. If it's too skewed, you can't have a successful relationship.
Are there any success stories that you can share?
In the fight against deadly childhood diarrhea, solid relationships with strong partners have helped us near the point of seeing more than one new rotavirus vaccine being successfully developed. We're also advancing vaccine development against the leading causes of bacterial diarrhea—enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli and Shigella—for which no vaccine currently exists. In this case, the developed-world market for such vaccines is not big enough to attract large pharmaceutical companies, but vaccines against these pathogens are greatly needed in the developing world. So through our partnerships with smaller biotech companies and research institutions, we've seen a broadening of awareness and the value put on such vaccines, which will hopefully lead to a positive vaccine development success story.
What do you find inspires you about your work?
A positive for me is marrying science, law, and business. Providing the business and legal expertise in support of finding a vaccine that is beneficial for children in low-resource countries makes for what I've always considered to be both meaningful and interesting work, particularly because the outcome is not how much profit can be achieved, but rather how society can benefit. It's how quickly we can facilitate the development of a safe and efficacious vaccine that we can introduce where it's most needed. I am proud to be a part of that effort.
Photo credit: PATH