Scenic view - Skeppsholmen and Djurgården
Photo: Ola Ericson

IVI strengthens Stockholm's vibrant life sciences cluster

Vaccines are among the most cost-effective interventions ever developed and essential for building sustainable healthcare systems worldwide. They're a vital component in the race to achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals and forging a future where everyone has access to quality healthcare.

Since 1997, the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) has been committed to discovering, developing and delivering safe, effective and affordable vaccines. In a landmark move, the UN-founded organization will now establish its first regional office outside Korea.

After careful consideration, Stockholm has been selected as the location for the new office. The city is a natural choice, says Dr Jerome Kim, Director General of IVI. Sweden's capital has a long history of health research and innovation, an active life science community, and a deep-seated commitment to creating global impact.

Moreover, Sweden and IVI have already worked together for 20 years and are closely aligned in their vision and values. "There's a long-term relationship of trust and accountability. IVI’s work to accelerate vaccines for global health aligns with the Swedish government’s health and sustainable development goals, which makes it really easy to work here."

Determining where diseases are in the world, their significance and economic burden can greatly reduce their impact. Sweden has supported this activity in the past, which is crucial to targeting and making efficient use of development funding. "That kind of insight into understanding the problem and coming up with solutions that directly address it is one of the things IVI thought carefully about when choosing this site for our office."

The establishment is a very important contribution to our entire ecosystem, says Invest Stockholm's Ylva Hultman, Business Development Manager Life Science. "Having IVI here in Stockholm increases the city's competitiveness in the life sciences, but more importantly, it advances the world's progress towards achieving and sustaining universal health coverage."

Partners in impact

The regional office brings IVI into the heart of the Stockholm-Uppsala life science cluster, an international community comprising five universities (including the world-leading Karolinska Institute), three university hospitals and an ever-growing number of life science companies.

Dr Kim praises the Swedish biomedical industry as "remarkably vibrant" and uniquely geared towards innovation. Academia and industry work in tandem, bolstered by the Swedish government, which has nurtured an innovation network and has a track record of supporting the development of underfunded vaccines.

One such example is a vaccine for Group A Streptococcus, which accounts for 500,000 preventable deaths each year, often women of childbearing age. IVI is already working with a group of researchers at the Karolinska Institute who are developing a desperately-needed vaccine. Being in Stockholm positions IVI as the perfect partner for advocating the development of vaccines such as this that have the potential for substantial global impact.

"Getting funding for the development of a Group A Strep vaccine, even from organizations we normally work with, has been very difficult. From a European grants perspective, it isn't easy to apply for EU funding if you're based in Korea. Being in a setting where you have access to those funds allows us to incrementally advance what's important."

Mutually beneficial relationships

The European base solves a multitude of issues for IVI. The pandemic, in particular, highlighted time zone difficulties when communicating and collaborating with African sites, where many of the global healthcare challenges are found. From its Stockholm office, IVI can be much more active in discussions with organizations like WHO and Gavi while enhancing its work in Africa.

Although IVI has been active for 25 years, awareness of the organization in Europe isn't as widespread as it could be. The regional office allows IVI to have a greater presence and become better known among European entities that can benefit from its unique services and expertise.

For instance, during the pandemic, IVI partnered with a number of small Korean companies to test their COVID vaccines in challenge studies on animals. The vaccines of interest received funding and went on to human clinical trials. The organization also has the capacity to test vaccines that have been approved by a regulator in real-world settings - which they are currently doing with several cholera and typhoid studies in Africa - to gauge impact and effectiveness.

"We can really help companies and universities make sure their vaccines don't get stuck in, let's call it, the 'valley of death'," says Dr Kim. "Great ideas that don't make it from the university from where they are developed into actual testing or the prototype stage because there's no funding."

Furthermore, IVI can help vaccine developers jump the implementation gap when a vaccine may have been shown to be safe and efficacious in large and expansive Phase III trials but doesn’t have a recommendation for use or has to be further studied to refine the dose, impact and cost-effectiveness in order to gain approval and a recommendation from the WHO.

The establishment of the new regional office in Stockholm represents a win for the entire vaccine value chain. It’s a pivotal piece in the global impact puzzle and a milestone in the race to the top of the development ladder.

"Being a nonprofit, international organization, we don't make money from this. It's enough for us to move the unincentivized vaccines forward because vaccines are cost-effective around the world."