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Pharmacy, Virology and Vaccinology

University of Pennsylvania_060221A
[University of Pennsylvania]

- Overview

The world population has grown to 7.6 billion people in 2018, more than half of which live in densely populated urban settings. Travel habits have changed radically; the number of people traveling by plane is growing each year. 

The high population density, as well as the extreme increase of contact between people from virtually all areas of the world highly favor global spreading of pathogens. This pandemic risk is further increased by the climate change that influences the distribution, abundance, and prevalence of pathogen-bearing vectors, promoting infections with a range of vector-borne diseases. The occurrence of pandemic outbreaks in the past decades has clearly demonstrated the reality of global pandemic threats.

The past decades have witnessed the development of a wide array of new vaccination technologies ranging from targeted attenuation techniques of live pathogens to the delivery of biologically engineered protein and peptide antigens as well as viral vector and nucleic acid based antigens. Many of these technologies have yielded highly promising results.

Building on deep scientific knowledge gained from decades of experience with viruses such as MERS, SARS, influenza, HIV and Hepatitis C, biopharmaceutical companies have made unprecedented progress in advancing treatments and vaccines to help fight COVID-19 in 2021. At this time, three vaccines and several treatments have received emergency use authorizations (EUAs) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with one treatment receiving FDA approval. 

Behind this rapid progress are advances in technology and understanding about the nature of the immune system, which have allowed us to more rapidly respond to the current pandemic compared to previous episodes. For instance, it took just a few months to have the first vaccine candidates to test against the coronavirus, compared to 20 months to have a vaccine ready to test in SARS patients a decade ago. Moreover, all of the vaccines that have received EUAs so far rely on groundbreaking platform technology meaning once a genetic target is identified from a new infectious agent, the platform can be used to quickly create prototype vaccines to move into preclinical and clinical testing. 

[Murren, Switzerland - Civil Engineering Discoveries]


- Pharmacy

Pharmacy is the science and practice of discovering, producing, preparing, dispensing, reviewing and monitoring medicines to ensure their safe, effective and affordable use. It is an integrative science because it links health science with pharmaceutical science and natural science. Since most drugs are now produced by the pharmaceutical industry, professional practice is becoming more clinically oriented. Depending on the setting, pharmacy practices are classified as community pharmacies or institutional pharmacies. Providing direct patient care in the institutional pharmacy community is considered clinical pharmacy. 

The field of pharmacy can generally be divided into three main disciplines: pharmacy, pharmacokinetics, medicinal chemistry, pharmacognosy, and pharmaceutical practice.
The boundaries between these disciplines and other sciences, such as biochemistry, are not always clear. Often, collaborative teams from different disciplines (pharmacists and other scientists) work together to introduce new therapies and approaches to patient care. However, pharmacy is not a basic or biomedical science in its typical form. Medicinal chemistry is also a distinct branch of synthetic chemistry, combining pharmacology, organic chemistry, and chemical biology.


- Virology

Virology is the study of viruses and virus-like agents, including (but not limited to) their taxonomy, disease-producing properties, cultivation and genetics. It is the scientific discipline concerned with the study of the biology of viruses and viral diseases, including the distribution, biochemistry, physiology, molecular biology, ecology, evolution and clinical aspects of viruses.

Virology is often considered a part of microbiology or pathology. In the early years this discipline was dependent upon advances in the chemical and physical sciences, but viruses soon became tools for probing basic biochemical processes of cells.

It is no accident that virologists have played major roles in the biological revolutions of the last century. Viral gene products engage all the key nodes of biology, ranging from the atomic to the organismal, and thus serve as ideal tools to dissect the most intricate life processes. The challenges are to identify and understand these biological nodes and extrapolate from this information how viruses replicate, disseminate, and sometimes cause disease. Virology in the 21st century will continue to prosper.


- Vaccinology

Vaccinology is the science of vaccines, and historically includes basic science, immunogens, the host immune response, delivery strategies and technologies, manufacturing, and clinical evaluation. More recently, the science has expanded further to include the safety, regulatory, ethical and economic considerations of vaccine development and utilisation. Veterinary vaccines are equally important in the field of vaccinology for their contribution not only to animal health but also to the security of the food supply for humans. Although traditionally vaccinology has focused on infectious diseases, as we move forward in the 21st century vaccines will also potentially make significant contributions to the control of non-infectious diseases such as cancers, neurodegenerative diseases and addictions. 

The field of vaccinology continues to expand and innovate in basicscience discovery, product development and implementation, and evaluation of effectiveness. Innate and induced immune regulatory pathways are unraveled, new adjuvants and antigen constructs proven effective, and recently licensed products achieve high coverage, yielding noticeable decreases in disease incidence. These achievements are moving the field forward, with the expectation that many current, challenging diseases—including chronic, noninfectious, and neoplastic - might become vaccine-preventable or vaccine-treatable.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a shocking reminder of how our world would look in the absence of vaccination. Fortunately, new technologies, the pace of understanding new and existing pathogens, and the increased knowledge of the immune system allow us today to develop vaccines at an unprecedented speed. Some of the vaccine technologies that are fast-tracked by the urgency of COVID-19 may also be the answer for other health priorities, such as antimicrobial resistance, chronic infections, and cancer, that the post-COVID-19 world will urgently need to face. This perspective analyzes the way COVID-19 is transforming vaccinology and the opportunities for vaccines to have an increasingly important role in health and well-being.




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