Public sector funding instrumental in the development of COVID-19 vaccines

Research suggests that the public sector played a leading role in the development of therapeutics and vaccines to combat COVID-19.
Dr Aris Angelis says: "Governments and public funders of medical research should safeguard the affordable and equitable access to COVID-19 interventions."

Publicly funded research and medical institutions played a leading role as funding sources in the development of effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics during the first 1.5 years of the pandemic, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.

The study aimed to understand how the public sector, the private sector and their partnerships shaped biopharmaceutical research and development by comparing funding sources for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 clinical trials between 1 January 2020 and 31 August 2021.

The researchers found 1,977 registered clinical trials for COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines worldwide with a start date over the study period, using the data repository. The study included only intervention trials investigating vaccines or therapeutics, such as existing drugs and new monoclonal antibodies, and did not include post-licensing clinical trials (Phase 4).

Funding sources were organised into public, industry, and their combination in the form of public-private partnerships (PPPs). Public sources of funding included National Institutes of Health and the US Federal Government alongside universities, research centres and academic hospitals.

Overall, of the 1,977 COVID-19 clinical trials, 57.9% were publicly funded, 27.3% were industry funded and 14.8% were funded via PPPs.

Dr Aris Angelis, Assistant Professor in Health Economics at LSHTM, said: “By investigating the funding sources of COVID-19 clinical trials, our study indicates that the public sector played a substantial role in the clinical development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, especially at the earlier stages of the pandemic. Governments and public funders of medical research should therefore safeguard the affordable and equitable access to these interventions.”

The 1,977 COVID-19 trials represented 13.9% of all clinical trials registered during the same period. 15% of the COVID-19 trials were focused on the development of vaccines (297), while 85% were on therapeutics (1680).

More clinical trials for COVID-19 therapeutics received funding from public sources (1,039) compared to vaccines (105). Public-private partnerships (PPPs) and the public sector together funded more than half of the vaccine trials (57.3%).

Over the 1.5 year period, the researchers found that the percentage of publicly funded non-COVID-19 trials (46.1%) was lower than percentage for COVID-19 trials (57.9%). In contrast, there was a higher percentage of industry-funded non-COVID trials (40.7%) compared to industry-funded COVID-19 trials (27.3%).

The study also revealed that the number of publicly funded COVID-19 trials (both vaccines and therapeutics) decreased, from 77.1% in April to 30.5% in August. However, there were no similar downward trends in the number of industry-funded or PPP-funded trials.

The findings suggest that public funders provided the earlier investments in COVID-19 trials, ahead of industry sources, playing a leading role in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.



Angelis, A., Alonso, C. S., Kyriopoulos, I. & Mossialos, E. (2022). Funding Sources of Therapeutic and Vaccine Clinical Trials for COVID-19 vs Non–COVID-19 Indications, 2020-2021. JAMA Network Open, 5 (8).   https://doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.26892

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