Vaccination is a preventive measure that aims at accelerating the building of specific defenses in order to help protect an individual against infection. Vaccine development, however, is very different from clinical drug development. Here is a brief outline of the ‘Vaccine Ecosystem’ which exists in the biotech industry, which following evolution from the last few years now poses the question: Are European Biotechs still the key players in the Vaccine field?

Depending on the vaccine it can take from 6 to 22 months to produce a single batch, a manufacturing process which takes more time than to produce some medicines. There is a long way from the exploratory stage to a vaccination program, which is becoming more and more challenging to break into. Here’s a short introduction on the global vaccine ecosystem:

1. The Vaccine Ecosystem

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There are two types of vaccines producers in the ecosystem:

  • The R&D – based manufacturers: generally located in industrialized countries, they produce the vaccines they have researched and developed, self-investing in innovation (either for new vaccines or improvement of existing vaccines like combinations).
  • The non-R producers: generally located in LMICs (Low Middle Income countries), they produce heritage vaccines researched and developed previously by the R&D based producers, focusing on low prices and high volumes.

And there are also 2 main types of purchaser:

  • Purchasers using direct procurement: Primarily high and middle income countries who autonomously define and implement their vaccination policy through self-financing and direct procurement of vaccines.
  • Purchasers using pooled procurement: Procurement agent pooling the demand from several countries which results in higher demand visibility and lower transaction costs.

…and they belong to 2 different sub-ecosystems:

2. EU Biotechs: Are they still the big players?

Compared to the pharmaceutical market, the vaccine market is relatively small and concentrated on both supply and demand side. Only five large multi-national corporations constitute 80% of the global market, three of which are European giants: Glaxo SmithKline (UK), Sanofi Pasteur (France) and Novartis (Switzerland).

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The concept of a vaccine was famously discovered in Europe. The term vaccine was first coined by Edward Jenner, from Gloucestershire (West England), in from the Latin ‘vacca’, which means cow. This discovery came after his experiment to use a cowpox inoculation to prevent Smallpox (the viral Variola major and Variola minor). You can read up on the history  of Jenner and smallpox a bit better here.

Other points suggest Europe remains the key player in the present day Vaccine industry.  Figures below are quoted from Vaccines Europe – a biennial survey which maps and connects the vaccine industry within Europe.

First of all, Europe is the key centre for production. In 2010, 79% of the vaccines produced in Europe, with 58% of R&D costs associated with vaccine development invested in European biotechs.

Vaccines Europe 2

Source: Vaccines Europe

Secondly, continuous investment in vaccine research, development, and production represents a major public health strength and economic asset for the European Countries.

Vaccines Europe 3

(Source: Vaccines Europe)

Finally, European countries are also a high skilled science based employer.

Vaccines Europe

(Source: Vaccines Europe)

Figures such as these seem to abate our concern that Europe is slipping behind in the Vaccine Industry. Instead, the industry seems to be remain heavily biased by European biotechs, and will probably continue to do so.


Here is talk from within-industry specialist Andrea Rappagliosi (President of Vaccines Europe) speaking on ‘The State of Health of Vaccination in the EU’ at the 2014 Centro Congressi Fontana di Trevi in Rome (Italy).

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