Predicting COVID-19 vaccine success

8 October 2020

Innogen Associate, Dr Jack Scannell, has co-authored a policy paper for the Centre for Global Development that analyses the COVID-19 vaccine pipeline. This work aims to bring high-quality probabilistic models of the COVID-19 vaccine pipeline into the public domain, to help policy development as well as the management of technological and manufacturing risks.  It builds on recent work he published with Vladimir Shnaydman in the Financial Times and in the medical literature.

The authors interviewed a panel of 16 experts from governments, academia, and industry, and collated information on COVID-19 vaccine candidates and their attributes. They used the available data to build a mathematical model that estimates the probabilities of success in clinical trials, the time that the trials will require, and the time it will take to manufacture the vaccine.

The data to date suggest that there is a 50 percent chance that by the end of April 2021 there will be at least one vaccine safe and efficacious enough to win full approval from a stringent regulator, such as the FDA or EMA. By the end of 2021, this rises to 85 percent. The model estimates that it could take over two years to manufacture enough doses to cover the entire world’s population (setting aside the time it will then take to run immunisation campaigns).

The predicted timelines highlight the need for governments and health agencies to plan for dealing with COVID-19 long-term and adopt measures to minimize infection whilst not bringing the economy to a standstill.

The authors also call for vaccine portfolio diversification to minimize the chance of technological failure and to avoid manufacturing bottlenecks. They also argue that “vaccine nationalism” is putting people at risk since it undermines technical and manufacturing diversification.

The model is still work in progress and has been made freely available so others can update the inputs as more information becomes available and overall uncertainty is reduced.

“A lot of people were asking how quickly we could get a COVID-19 vaccine but there are much better questions if you are trying to manage the pandemic. For example: What is the chance that no vaccines are widely available within the next 18 months? How best to structure the vaccine portfolio to minimize the risk of zero approvals and to maximise manufacturing capacity? The new work tries to answer those kinds of questions.” says Jack Scannell, Innogen Associate & Honorary Fellow at the School of Social and Political Science, The  University of Edinburgh.