Lhe Covid-19 pandemic has seen, in European countries, an unprecedented mobilization in terms of research, development, production and distribution of vaccines (which has however left aside the question, however essential, of access vaccines for the poorest countries).
What conclusion can be drawn from this experience on an industrial and economic level? (“Which Policies for Vaccine Innovation and Delivery in Europe?”, Mathias Dewatripont, Working Papers n° 14, Ecares, 2022, presented at the Center for Economic Policy Research symposium, June 2, at Sciences Po).
Europe has made a significant contribution to the development of vaccines, in particular via BioNTech (Germany), AstraZeneca/Oxford (Sweden and the United Kingdom) and Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Belgian subsidiary of the American Johnson and Johnson).
On the other hand, Europe must, in terms of industrial policy, learn the lessons of the undisputed success of the American “Operation Warp Speed” (OWS).
Set up by the Trump administration (which has also mismanaged other aspects of the pandemic), the OWS has played a crucial role in concentrating massive support, via the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda, biotechnology research and development authority), to six vaccine projects, each involving two companies, using three different technologies: messenger RNA vaccines, with the American biotech Moderna, and with the American industrial partner Pfizer at BioNTech; non-replicating viral vector vaccines, with AstraZeneca/Oxford and Johnson and Johnson; recombinant protein vaccines, with the American biotech company Novavax and the French and British manufacturers Sanofi and GSK.
This selection combining diversification and competition has generated an unexpected result, since five of these six projects have already given rise to authorization from the European Medicines Agency – only the Sanofi/GSK vaccine is not yet.
La Barda therefore did not finance only American companies, and did not focus its efforts on the four world leaders in the pre-Covid vaccine industry: Sanofi, GSK, Pfizer and the American MSD. Pfizer is so far the only one of these four leaders to have achieved success, thanks to a downstream partnership with the “small” company BioNTech. A successful industrial policy therefore does not mean funding only the established leaders.
Europe will try to imitate the Barda by creating the Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA, health emergency response authority), but the question of its budget and its strategic autonomy will be crucial. Europe could also take inspiration from other parts of the US innovation ecosystem, such as the National Institutes of Health, provided it stops being a “budget dwarf”, with a budget representing only 1% of the Union’s gross national product.
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