When will it end? Big Pharma's top vaccine expert at OWS offers a speedy timeline for a Covid-19 vaccine — either before or right after the election
Moncef Slaoui hasn’t started making plans for his summer vacation next year. But he offers high odds that all Americans will be able to do that in the not too distant future.
In an interview with a pair of sympathetic podcasters at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Slaoui provides an education to listeners on how any drug or vaccine can be sped through trials. And he leaves the door wide open to the notion that the leading vaccine developers can demonstrate efficacy and safety in a compelling fashion as early as October — or as late as the end of this year.
But Slaoui says he is quite confident that based on what he knows now, there’s good reason to be hopeful that vaccines will be available in sufficient quantity to cover all the at-risk population in the US — up to 40 million people — by the end of February. And he’s looking for several vaccines to cross the finish line, so that the experts can choose which are the most likely to work based on demographics and risk.
Slaoui’s position on this will be closely followed. He ended a 30-year stint at GSK as chairman of the vaccines group, topping it off with the highly successful Shingrix program. With his switch to OWS, Slaoui divested his Moderna shares — jumping from the board of one of the leading vaccine developers to OWS — but kept his GSK stock, which triggered some criticism that he’s still clearly deeply resentful about.
For critics, it’s all fodder for discussion as everyone focuses in on the highly potent topic of whether President Trump will force through a vaccine announcement — heralding a successful pivotal trial — in time to influence the election. And like every expert in the government, from FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn to NIAID director Anthony Fauci, Slaoui says the science will be all that matters.
Drawing from a transcript of the call, here’s Slaoui describing in detail how vaccine development is done:
We’re running very large trials because they allow us to reach efficacy faster, not because there’s an election, because there’s thousands of people dying every day. And the data will be defined by the number of cases. There is no date. It’s impossible to give you a date. I have been asked about dates, and I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever to say data will define the date. When we have the number of cases required and then we have an independent data safety monitoring board independently look into the data and says we need to continue, we need to stop because this is not working, or we need to stop because this is working too well, it’s unethical to continue, we now need to start to give the vaccine to the placebo arm in the trial and to other people to consider, then that will be the end. So the end of the trials is completely independent of the operation or anybody involved in the operation. It’s actually great academic experts, whose names are unknown to the public who are looking into that data. And this is how all clinical trials are always done. That is how clinical trials are done.
So when will we know?
So the data will dictate, the facts will dictate. We may have the end point in October. We may have it in November 4th, who knows? We may have it in December 15th. That’s the answer, and to be honest, on a personal basis, I would resign instantly if I was forced to do something that I thought would be inappropriate.
From the podcasters: What’s your timeline? Or what’s your thought on that?
I hope we will have enough doses of vaccines in the first two months of 2021 to immunize the at risk populations in the US, vaccines that could have shown efficacy and approved independently by the FDA. And I’m talking about maybe the 30 to 40 million most susceptible people in the US across maybe December, January, February.
And then and I think that should decrease dramatically the burden of this disease on society in general. Because, as you know, most of the burden of the disease is on a high risk population. Plus the secondary effect of overwhelming the hospital systems, et cetera, which has an impact on other populations for other reasons. And I think, from there on, it’s going to be a gradual process that will be a balance between the benefits/risks that the vaccines will have shown and the risk of particular subpopulation.
For instance, frankly, immunizing the pediatric population, toddlers, et cetera, will be something that should be really far because they have 70 or 80 years to live. And we need probably there to use platform technologies that are well understood in the long range, such as protein based vaccines, et cetera. We are fortunate that mostly in that population the disease burden is very, very low. And so, I think there will be a gradient of views. But probably between the first quarter and the second quarter of 2021, the most at risk populations will have been, I hope, immunized. And life, I would expect… I hope next summer I can have a vacation, normal vacation.
Whatever happens to his vacation plans, one thing seems certain. Millions of people will be arguing over the development timeline right until the election is decided.
For a look at all Endpoints News coronavirus stories, check out our special news channel.