Vaccines: A Timeline of Innovation

Since human beings stopped being hunter-gatherers and settled into agricultural communities, disease has been mankind’s harshest enemy. To counter this, the search for inoculation-based cures where a small quantity or a less virulent form of a disease-causing germ is introduced into a person’s body to build immunity goes back centuries. Evidence of such treatments was available well before Edward Jenner used the theory to develop a smallpox vaccine in the 18th century. 

Currently,  the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that vaccines prevent an estimated 3.5-5 million deaths every year and are available for more than 20 life-threatening diseases. They combat the spread of pandemic diseases, such as flu and SARS, and are being formulated to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

As described by Dr. Princess Nothemba Simelela, Assistant Director-General, Special Advisor to the Director-General, Strategic Priorities, WHO, vaccinations are one of the greatest life-saving public health interventions in history.


Notable present-day innovations

An exciting development of the previous decade in the field of vaccines is the use of nanoparticles as carriers for vaccines. Nano carrier-based delivery systems offer increased protection against premature degradation, and good stability, and act as adjuvants to elicit an improved immune response. This makes the vaccine more resilient, allowing researchers to explore varied routes of administration.

Inorganic and polymeric nanoparticles, virus-like particles (VLPs), liposomes, Lipid Nanoparticles (e.g. SLN, LNP etc.) and self-assembled protein nanoparticles have all been tested as potential vaccine carriers. Gold, carbon, and silica nanoparticles have been successfully used to deliver viral antigens.

There are now more than ten covid-19 vaccines under development using miRNA and protein based nanoparticles platform which also uses liposomes/lipid nanoparticles for vaccine delivery, to tackle all past and future variants of the Sar-CoV-2 virus


The drivers of innovation

The history of vaccines has been one of innovation. The scientific community has had to race against an increasing number of pathogens that are evolving to destroy human lives. Pathogens already present amongst us frequently transform to evade our innate and external defenses. In addition, scientists estimate that more than 1.7 million unknown viruses exist in animals worldwide, and 38 to 50% of them could spread to humans. Phenomena such as climate change and rapid urbanization hasten this juggernaut.

Also, a vaccine needs to fulfill many other parameters to safeguard against disease effectively. A vaccine should be compatible with being manufactured at scale, transported across global supply chains, and available in variants that provide immunity against different forms of the pathogen and are safe for people belonging to different demographics. A vaccine safe for a healthy adult may not be so for a young child or an elderly individual.

This complex combination of factors that could make a difference between life and death has spurred the scientific community to continually innovate.


A brief history of vaccine development

It was towards the end of the 20th century that vaccinations had either eradicated or reduced mortality for a great number of diseases. Vaccine innovation and usage increased over the years and followed scientific and political-economic developments.

With modern scientific advancements, vaccines have become more sophisticated and scientists around the world are achieving breakthroughs far more often.


vaccine technology evolution:


The first generation

  •  Live attenuated vaccines (also called attenuated or weakened) are one of the oldest forms of vaccines. They contain weakened forms of the infectious agent that stimulate your immune system to develop immunity against that agent; live attenuated vaccines may be given by mouth or by injection into the muscle. An example is the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine
  •  Inactivated vaccines (also called killed) do not contain any living organism but rather a killed version of the pathogen that stimulates your immune system to develop immunity. It can be given only subcutaneously (under the skin), intramuscularly (into the muscle), intradermally (into layers beneath the skin), or intralesionally (into tissue directly). Polio and influenza vaccines are inactivated.


The second generation

–  Toxoid vaccines use toxins created by the pathogen to create immunity to the specific parts of the pathogen that causes the disease. These were introduced in the early 1900s and include vaccines for tetanus and diphtheria.

  • There are also subunit, recombinant, conjugate, and polysaccharide vaccines that use particular parts of the germ or virus. These were first used in the mid-19080s. They trigger very strong immune responses in the body, making it the perfect vaccine for people who should not receive “live” vaccines, such as young children, older people, and immunocompromised people. The hepatitis B vaccine is an example.


The third generation

Viral vector vaccines modify another harmless virus and use it as a vector to deliver instructions to protect us from the intended virus. Described as a gene delivery system they trigger a strong immune response. AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is an example.

  •   mRNAvaccines are ‘futuristic’ vaccines that can be developed quickly using the pathogen’s genetic code. They work by triggering an immune response from proteins they synthesize and induce both cellular and humoral immunity, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
  • DNA and recombinant vector vaccines – Recombinant DNA technology involves splicing together strands of DNA from different sources (such as bacteria or viruses) so that they produce proteins that can be used for testing purposes.  Although DNA-based vaccines have not yet been approved for use in the general public, several ongoing human clinical trials on DNA vaccines are underway. One of the first clinical trials investigated the possible therapeutic and prophylactic effects of a DNA vaccine against HIV.


The role of patents

Given the time, money, and effort that goes into making vaccines, patents ensure certain much-needed parameters are followed across the ecosystem – such as recognizing innovation and ensuring the high standards that are crucial for a life-saving product.

Patents also reward the patent owner which is often a large corporation with exclusive and substantial profits, at least in the initial years of vaccine manufacturing. And this has always been a subject of contention.

While patent supporters believe in limiting access to intellectual property to ensure innovations are cutting-edge and profitable, justice for the less fortunate is also an important argument. While profit provides the impetus to innovate and boost production, basic human rights should not have to play second fiddle, especially in health emergencies.


During the pandemic

As expected, this debate was pushed to the forefront during COVID-19 with some countries such as the US and India, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) arguing for the suspension of intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 vaccines, medicines, and technologies, and the EU countries and the pharma companies opposing it.

In the wake of COVID, several companies came together for ‘The Open Covid Pledge’, which hands out “non-exclusive and royalty-free” licenses for Covid products. They provide an open framework under which patent holders can voluntarily pledge not to assert the exclusivity of their rights to manufacture, use, sell, reproduce and import these products. 

A partial waiver of Covid-19 vaccine patents benefiting developing countries also came through in June 2022. But this might be too little, too late. Production of Covid-19 vaccines has increased dueto the demanding global markets.Also, manufacturing vaccines of the required quality needs much more than the lifting of patents. Technology transfer, advanced infrastructure, and the right supply chain are just some of the variables that need to fall into place.

Meanwhile,  two scientists Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Botazzi, co-directors of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, invented a safe, easy-to-make vaccine and kept it patent-free. India was quick to leverage its existing infrastructure to manufacture the jab known as Corbevax, and by August 2022, 70 million doses had been given to adolescents in the country.


What lies ahead?

Currently, there are several frameworks in place regulating patents and ownership rights.

The World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement is one such framework.  It obliges all WTO member states to offer 20 years of monopoly protection on new patented products. Although there is a group of 35 least developed WTO member states that are exempt, all the other countries have to play by these rules, making sure that if a patent holder has a patent for a country, that country cannot reverse engineer and try to develop a generic equivalent.

The two schools of thought around vaccine patents have been at odds almost since the beginning of mass vaccinations. Jonas Salk who led the team that developed one of the first polio vaccines famously said Could you patent the sun?. Salk believed the vaccine belonged to the people.

He was right as, in this instance, the public had funded the development process by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis which was itself a non-profit. So there was an almost universal consensus that the vaccine was already paid for.

Interestingly, towards the end of his illustrious career, Salk helped set up a corporation to develop an HIV vaccine. Though the outcome was unsuccessful, Salk’s company moved to patent the vaccine in the initial stages.

The hunt for an answer continues. Government funding, patent pools, domestic patent laws, cash rewards for new vaccines, transfer of technology from advanced countries, and global initiatives to foster innovation are just some ways to ensure vaccines reach the largest possible section of humanity while maintaining the highest possible scientific and regulatory standards.


Highlights about Researchwire’s Forte in this domain:

The pharma and life science team had worked on several projects in the past related to various aspects of vaccine innovation like vaccine formulation, vaccine compositions and vaccine development. The team had handled vaccine related projects for the aquatic animals, poultry, swine, and human use.

In the current context, the most important work done by the team was related to Lipid Nanoparticles and Liposome formulation for the drug delivery especially in the development of vaccine against Covid-19 virus. The work comprises exploration of various LNP and Liposome formulations, manufacturing technologies, finding various LNP/Liposome Based Therapeutics in Market, key ingredients of LNP/Liposomes, their suppliers and manufacturers, propriety manufacturing technology owners and their associations/alignments with pharma/biotech players. Amongst the various technologies’ aspect for vaccine innovation, the team also did perform in depth review of microfluidic device for the continuous production of lipid nanoparticles/ liposomes/ polymeric nanoparticles.

The other similar works (related to nanomaterials) are Liposomal Cisplatin and Platinum based drugs and Exosomes based Wound Dressing Materials.



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How 5G is Transforming the Healthcare Industry

From facilitating the remote diagnosis of the Covid virus to autonomous driving robots inside the operating room, the advent of 5G networks in healthcare will be one of the best things to happen for the healthcare industry. With its massive connection power and high speed, it has a lot to offer and revolutionize healthcare. 


Investments in healthcare technology have increased because of Covid-19. There was a 19% increase in healthcare investments in 2020 when compared with 2019, to the tune of $9.1 billion. According to Gartner, the 5G network infrastructure has risen worldwide by 39% in 2021. 


What is 5G?

It is the fifth generation of wireless network technology and is an advanced version of the 4th generation. 1G focused on improving voice quality, 2G did the same, but it also offered consumers the ability to send and receive text messages. 3G was released during the time internet was brought to our phones, 4G was all about data sharing and faster wireless internet connectivity. With 5G networks, we are promised incredibly fast connectivity, extremely low latency, and widespread coverage


What is the relevance of 5G in healthcare?

The cost of healthcare is seeing a steep increase, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only added to its woes. Inefficient processes, government policies, aging population, disease incidence, and medical service utilization contribute to the increase in healthcare costs.


Some of the biggest technologies in the world such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), IoT, big data, etc, contribute to the development of the healthcare experience for patients. They also help reduce costs for the hospitals. 


For example, AI/ML helps in the diagnosis of certain diseases based on the symptoms. Faster communication and a seamless network make telemedicine a reality. But there are problems such as slow network speeds and low latency that don’t help the cause at times. This is where 5G networks can completely change the game for healthcare providers. 


While many use cases were explored in healthcare, some of them didn’t meet expectations because of the limitations in the incumbent communication networks. Thanks to features such as low latency, high speed, and fast data transfer rate, 5G will be able to resolve some of the biggest challenges. 


What is the need for 5G in healthcare? 


  • Better security and reliability:

5G gives secure and more reliable service due to better use of bandwidth and more connection points. Because of this, 5G is able to provide ubiquitous coverage too. For healthcare applications, reliable and timely data transmission is pivotal, especially in areas such as augmented-reality powered robotic surgeries, connected ambulances, remote patient monitoring, and so on. Thanks to 5G’s better privacy protection, advanced encryption protocols, software-defined setup, and authentication framework, the networks are more secure. 


  • Helps expand telemedicine:

Market Research Future says that the telemedicine market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.5% from 2017 to 2023. The study says that the increased demand is because of government initiatives. For telemedicine to work successfully, it requires a network that offers high-quality video in real-time. Telemedicine is bolstered by the fact that it can enable mobile networks to work seamlessly. Patients who do not often get access to specialists will be able to get proper healthcare because of 5G networks. 


  • Connected ambulances:

Connected ambulances help emergency services collect important and real-time information about the patient through sensors, wearables, and streaming HD cameras, while the patient is being taken to a healthcare center. Thanks to this, the healthcare staff have a much better understanding of what the patient requires even before they arrive at the hospital. In serious situations, specialist doctors can even guide the paramedics through certain procedures without having to travel to hospitals. 


Connected ambulances cannot be implemented without 5G’s capabilities. Real-time data transfer is pivotal in emergency situations as even minor decisions can have a lot of bearing on patient outcomes. The high bandwidth that 5G offers enables the video to be live-streamed without seeing a dip in quality. Apart from these two, the 5G network’s increased reliability and security make it a must-have for the healthcare industry.


  • Video-enabled medication adherence:

Making sure that patients take their prescriptions is a big challenge in the healthcare industry. Patients with chronic diseases will not be able to function properly if they do not take their medicines on time. 5G tackles this problem by connecting pharmacists and care providers directly to the patient to ensure that the medicines are taken on time. 


  • Clinical collaboration:

Lengthy wait times to get the correct diagnosis can result in a poor experience for the patient, it can even end up harming them adversely. Most of the time, the doctors will be waiting for the results of tests that are being diagnosed in the same healthcare center. Collaboration and communication become a problem and it slows down the progress of the treatment. 

A healthcare center that has a 5G platform can easily solve this problem as lab technicians will be able to transfer large files without compromising the quality. The 5G platform connects all the devices within the hospital, starting from medical equipment to devices handled by the caregivers, solving the problem of data accessibility.  


  • Medical Sensors:

Wearable devices have seen huge strides in adoption as well as an increase in their use cases. A wearable fitness device can monitor your heart rate, skin temperature, ECG, SpO2, sleep cycle, and even your stress levels. With more such technologies facilitating remote patient care and monitoring, the treatment and experience of the patient improve by a huge margin. 


Hospitals can even use smartphone cameras to detect melanoma, monitor skin infections, analyze patient injuries, eye problems, etc. The wireless medical sensors can even be used in administering and monitoring medication. 


  • Real-time remote monitoring:

With the help of IoT devices, healthcare providers can monitor the data of patients to provide timely and personalized care. It also increases patients’ engagement with their own health. One of the biggest obstacles to the success of remote monitoring is the capacity of networks to handle the data. When the connection is unreliable, the healthcare service providers will not be able to make quick decisions. 

5G enables real-time remote monitoring because of the following reasons: 

  • Increased capacity to handle a number of connected devices per square kilometer
  • Provides greater reliability and security for the connected devices
  • Offers greater mobility 


  • AR/VR for the blind:

Those who have poor or zero vision will find it difficult to do day-to-day tasks that are easy for others. With the help of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

headset, or a pair of video streaming glasses, visually challenged people can be connected to a real-time person who will guide them in doing their daily activities. 


5G helps AR/VR systems to help the visually challenged at scale because:

  • 5G’s low latency allows the video to be streamlined in real-time, and it is crucial as a light delay might result in mishaps
  • The higher bandwidth that 5G offers allows for higher video quality 
  • Many of the AR/VR activities will happen seamlessly because of the mobility that 5G offers


  • Distraction and Rehabilitative Therapy:

AR and VR can also be used extensively in hospitals to offer a better experience for the patients, especially in distraction and rehabilitative therapy. To give an example of how AR/VR can be used in distraction therapy, we can take the example of a patient who has a phobia of needles. The patient can wear the AR/VR headset, they can choose cloud-streamed videos, and they will be transported to a completely different environment. 


  •  Better patient-doctor relationship:

To give and receive proper care, the relationship between patients and doctors should be great. Thanks to 5G, the communication between both parties happens seamlessly.  Artificial intelligence and interconnected sensors can analyze the interactions between patients and the staff. With 5G, there will be better outcomes and much more personalized care. Integration of 5G can also increase the access of doctors. With the help of fast data speeds, patients can interact with doctors from afar. Patients wouldn’t have to walk into a hospital for every minor ailment. By using video chats, they can assess which ones require in-hospital visits. 


  • Healthcare automation:

Hospitals can leverage the applications, data, and infrastructure that 5G networks will open up to stay a step ahead of their competitors. They can greatly increase their speed, ability to handle complexity, and scale of business operations. Automation plays a huge role in maximizing healthcare value. With the help of 5G, hospitals can automate pivotal business processes and workflows. Potential delays or failures can be detected with the help of predictive analysis before they happen, thereby making them ready for immediate remediation. 


  • Telesurgery: 

Telesurgery requires medical information like audio, videos, and images, to be digitized and transmitted wirelessly via telecommunication networks. Telesurgeries are rare because of concerns over internet reliability and infrastructure. The data connection has to be fast if surgeries have to be remotely monitored. There’s good reason to believe that 5G will make telesurgery a possibility. 



The potential of 5G in healthcare is immense, there are many more applications of this technology. It can improve the quality of the care, reduce the care cost, offer a better patient experience, and more. As the use of 5G in healthcare increases, we will see a connected healthcare ecosystem taking shape that will change the way we receive care. Ultimately, this paves way for better healthcare for everyone. 


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