Dr. Penny Heaton
Put succinctly, the Vaccine Development team is guided by a mission to ensure a world in which the right vaccines are available to all who need them. Under the leadership of board-certified pediatrician and former CDC medical officer Penny Heaton, the team provides expert guidance to the Foundation’s grantees and internal program strategy teams focused on making vaccines more effective, affordable and fit-for-purpose in target populations. The work integrates science, economics and policy, and ranges from the development of new vaccine formulations to the improvement of packaging and manufacturing processes.
First case in point: Polio. As the globe pushes toward eradication of wild polio, a shift away from oral vaccines used in routine immunization will need to occur, to prevent the rare risk of re-emergence posed by vaccine-derived polioviruses. However, the injectable polio vaccine currently suffers from inadequate supply, is too expensive for low- and middle-income countries to procure and is less effective in preventing transmission than the oral form. To tackle these challenges, the team works with multiple partners to develop more effective vaccines in support of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and to help lower costs by bringing new suppliers into the market. With only a handful of cases remaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rollout of new and improved vaccines scheduled between 2018 and 2022, eradication appears to be on the horizon.
Another example can be found in rotavirus. The team is currently addressing the disease on multiple fronts—pushing for more supplies of the oral vaccine in China and India and working with grantee PATH to develop an injectable version for use in low- and middle-income countries. An injectable vaccine would potentially bypass the issues faced by the oral form in low-resource environments, which is believed to be less effective due to prevalent malnutrition and chronic gastrointestinal inflammation.
Finally, the team is conducting exciting work in the area of pneumonia, with implications for maternal and newborn health. The team is currently supporting Novavax to develop a vaccine to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)—which has a growing burden in low- and middle-income countries and is currently the leading cause of pneumonia in infants. By vaccinating expectant mothers, newborns are protected during the early months of life when pneumonia is most severe.
By providing support to partners across the broad vaccine ecosystem—from small biotechnology firms and large multinational corporations to non-profits and academia—the Vaccine Development team continues to play an important role in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases. Together with the work of their grantees, the team’s work reflects today’s promising era in global health, as technological innovation, science and partnership combine to extend access for life-saving vaccines to millions more each year.