“Our mission – to discover, develop and deliver safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines to most vulnerable populations”

The International Vaccine Institute (IVI) launched its regional office in Stockholm in 2022. In this relatively brief period, IVI has significantly expanded its footprint within the Swedish and European life science sectors. IVI's Regional office director, Dr. Anh Wartel, tells us about the journey IVI has taken so far to succeed with its mission of promoting vaccines for a safer future and how it engages with the Swedish organization's life science partners to make it possible.

What is IVI’s main focus right now?

– From the very establishment of IVI in 1997 as an independent international non-profit organization, our focus has been, and remains to be, contributing to a healthier, safer world by discovering, developing and delivering vaccines to protect the most vulnerable populations from infectious diseases. We build collaborations with governments, the private sector, research institutions and the philanthropic community in our mission to reduce the global health disparities that still exist today. We are the only international organization dedicated to developing and delivering low-cost vaccines for neglected and emerging diseases that kill or cause severe illness for millions of people each year. For example, we led the development of the world’s first affordable oral cholera vaccine and a new conjugate vaccine to protect babies and young children from typhoid fever. We have the skills, knowledge, experience, and resources to work along the entire vaccine value chain: from the discovery of new vaccines in the laboratory through licensure and prequalification by the World Health Organization (WHO) to their delivery to people who need them most. An integral part of our mission also involves combating antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which is considered one of the biggest threats to global public health. We partner with multiple international stakeholders, such as WHO, to coordinate efforts to reduce the reliance on antimicrobials and help curb the spread of AMR. We currently have three active projects that aim to tackle AMR in low- and middle-income countries worldwide.

– We are now strengthening our position in Europe and Africa by establishing new offices. On the 3rd of May this year we will open the new European office located at the KI Science Park in Stockholm. Our longstanding partnership with the Swedish government has made our presence in Sweden possible. Additionally, we have also opened a country office in Austria. These two sites will enable closer and more efficient collaboration with our existing partners in Europe and Africa and will open doors to new opportunities with European stakeholders and partners. Our expansion strategy also includes opening two offices in Africa by the end of the year: a regional office in Rwanda and a country office in Kenya. These offices will be dedicated to collaborating with the African partners and advancing vaccine end-to-end capabilities in Africa. They will be pivotal in providing on-the-ground support and strengthening African scientific collaborations. The presence of IVI in Africa will help us to establish stronger partnerships around training for sustainable vaccine R&D ecosystem, manufacturing and policy on the continent. 

Are you collaborating with scientists/research groups in Sweden?

– Yes, IVI actively collaborates with several leading research institutions and scientists in Sweden. Since the beginning of IVI we have been actively supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency – SIDA – and they remain one of our key partners in Sweden, in addition to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs that supported the IVI’s establishment in Europe through a 5-year grant. We have established a successful collaboration with Karolinska Institutet (KI) and the University of Gothenburg and are working with other partners across Sweden. Together with our Swedish partners, we collaborate on a phase I clinical trial of a new presentation of the oral cholera vaccine.

– Since early discussions to establish IVI’s office in Sweden, KI was considered a key future collaborator.  IVI and KI find common ground in advancing research and development for vaccines that fail to capture the interest of major vaccine developers but would make a significant difference to low-income countries. In addition to that, for the past two years, we have collaborated with KI to run the International Vaccinology Course. We intend to continue this partnership as the vaccinology course is now included in KI’s course catalogue for the first time in 2024.

What main diseases are your vaccine development projects currently targeting?

– IVI continues to prioritize low-cost, accessible, and equitable vaccines that prevent diseases found in the most impoverished regions in the world, such as cholera, typhoid, shigella, chikungunya, schistosomiasis, HPV, hepatitis E virus and more. Why do we consider it so important? Accessible and effective vaccines can dramatically reduce the incidence of preventable diseases, save lives, improve quality of life, and contribute to better health worldwide. Through our efforts, we hope to combat current public health challenges and strengthen global preparedness for future pandemics.

What are the main challenges for IVI? 

– Since we are a grant-based organization, securing sustainable funding for vaccine research and development is crucial but also challenging. It might take years for funding to be approved by respective governments and funding organizations. We are focusing on vaccines for diseases that affect low- and middle-income countries and this creates certain barriers. We actively shape the policy agenda and budget allocation in high-income countries and work hard to diversify funding sources, and demonstrate the impact and value of IVI's work in global health and vaccine development. Despite the challenges we are facing, we stay committed to our mandate to prevent and eliminate infectious diseases that trap people in a cycle of poverty. Our mission and vision are motivated by our knowledge that each number is a face, a family, and a community.

Four years after the corona pandemic started, what are the most important lessons learned by your organization?

– The covid-19 pandemic contributed to increased preparedness for future health crises. It has been a vivid example of the crucial importance of global cooperation, the need for robust healthcare systems and rapid response capabilities. But now, as the world has seen a light at the end of the long covid-19 pandemic tunnel, the focus of global health agenda is increasingly shifting towards climate change.  Therefore, we must delve deeper into climate change to fully grasp its effects on spreading infectious diseases and the potential emergence of pandemics.

Hagastaden is your first site in Europe. Why did you choose Stockholm?

– Our choice of Stockholm for launching our first European office has gone through a thorough proposal review. In addition to the long-term support to IVI, Sweden is known for its excellence in public health and vaccine research, robust research infrastructure, vibrant scientific community, and collaborative environment, making it an ideal location for an international and science-based organization like IVI. Sweden is home to many major biotech and life science companies; with many of them, we have established fruitful and long-term cooperation on the global health research agenda. Considering this promising context and prerequisites, we are confident that IVI has great potential to thrive in Sweden and successfully build connections with the rest of Europe and beyond.


Link to IVI's website >>