By Jan Strupczewski and Francesco Guarascio
ROME/BRUSSELS – Leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies are set to commit to supporting cutting to 100 days the period in which pharmaceutical companies can develop new vaccines, drugs and tests during a pandemic, according to a draft joint document.
In normal circumstances developing vaccines takes more than a decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic spurred an unprecedented rush in research, trials and regulatory procedures that made it possible to have vaccines ready in less than a year.
Now G20 leaders want that period cut further.
In health emergencies caused by pandemics “we will support science to shorten the cycle for the development of safe and effective vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics from 300 to 100 days,” the G20 leaders say in a draft statement which they are set to adopt over the weekend at a summit in Rome.
The draft is still subject to last-minute changes, but officials said this commitment was expected to remain unchanged.
One of the measures seen as crucial to cut the time needed to develop vaccines and drugs is the shortening of clinical trials. This could be possible by facilitating cooperation for conducting trials, setting up large registries for volunteers and involving regulators more closely during the trials.
The European Union is, for instance, working to boost clinical trial networks for vaccines and therapeutics to connect those responsible for designing and conducting trials.
Data sharing is also to be encouraged to speed up research.
New technologies, such as the messenger RNA, have also demonstrated they permit faster development of new vaccines.
G20 leaders will also support the goal of the World Health Organization (WHO) to vaccinate 70% of the eligible population in each country globally by mid-2022, the draft conclusions of the summit say.
That would narrow the current huge disparity in vaccine rollouts. Many wealthier nations have already reached that target but several poorer states remain below 5%.
The draft joint text is vague on strengthening global rules to allow rapid access of independent researchers to areas where there is an outbreak of disease to try to tackle potential crises as early as possible.
This has been a controversial issue for months with China, where the new coronavirus was first detected, facing accusations of insufficient cooperation, which it denies.
Leaders are set to welcome multilateral efforts aimed at supporting and strengthening pandemic preparedness and response, “including consideration of a possible international instrument or agreement in the context of the WHO”, the draft text says, referring to a pandemic treaty without explicitly mentioning it.