The European Commission (EC) is offering a EUR 2-million ($2.64 million) inducement prize to encourage innovation in the area of cold-chain logistics and vaccine stability. According to the EC, the need to keep vaccines stable at any ambient temperature is a huge barrier to using vaccines in developing countries or tropical climates. The prize was announced at the third Innovation in Healthcare conference in Brussels by the Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.
In a statement, Geoghegan-Quinn said: "Many people in tropical and developing countries cannot benefit from life-saving vaccines as these vaccines are damaged before they can reach them. The goal of this prize is to galvanize scientists into producing innovations which can solve this global health problem."
Vaccine delivery from manufacturers to recipients can take 18 months. During this time, most vaccines must be kept at a constant, suitable temperature. Often, this requires an unbroken cold chain, but such a system can be difficult to implement in developing countries, which means vaccines are often rendered ineffective before they reach their recipients. In a statement, the EC quotes the World Health Organization’s claim that half of all supplied vaccine doses are wasted — mainly by an inadequate cold-chain.
The winner will be announced in 2013, and must convince a panel of judges that vaccines can be safely transported and stored in field conditions such that they retain their full potency, effectiveness and safety. In addition, the solution should be able to be implemented at reasonable cost.
In Europe, funding worth EUR 400 million ($529 million) has already been awarded through Research Framework Programs 6 and 7 for projects relating to vaccine research. However, cold-chain technology has never been a focus of either of the framework programs.