Billions in NIH funding enabled COVID-19 vaccines

April 23, 2021
Keith A. Reynolds

The NIH’s investments in vaccine technology before the pandemic paid dividends in the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) put the country in a good position heading into the COVID-19 pandemic by investing more than $17 billion in vaccine technologies.

According to a news release, researchers from Bentley University found that NIH provided $17.2 billion in funding for 10 technologies between 2000 and 2019 that were applied in the creation of COVID-19 vaccines. Some of the technologies were in wide use since the mid- or late-20th century, but some, like the mRNA technology in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, were only established very recently.

"Rapid development of COVID vaccines was only possible because companies had access to a tool kit of established technologies," Fred Ledley, MD, director of Bentley University’s Center for Integration of Science and Industry, says in the release. "Some of the most recent technologies, including mRNA and viral vectors, proved to be particularly suitable for COVID-19 and the timelines required to combat this pandemic. The substantial public sector investments over the past 20 years that went into the maturation of these technologies needs to be considered in the pricing of these products and their availability to the public."

"This study also found surprisingly little NIH-funded, published research on vaccines for recognized pandemic threats, such as coronavirus, Zika, Ebola, or dengue virus," Anthony Kiszewski, lead author of the study and associate professor of Natural & Applied Science at Bentley University, says in the release. "Mechanisms need to be developed for funding research on vaccine technologies that accelerate vaccine development against emergent threats and preempt future pandemics."