By Chris Adams

The science of immunology began in the 19th century and has been through several eras of development – from growing vaccines in eggs to analyzing a pathogen’s entire genome.

“There are close to 30 diseases we can prevent through vaccinations,” said Dr. Leonard Friedland. “It’s remarkable. Our clinical practice has changed because of vaccination.”

And right now, development is accelerating.

Friedland, vice president and director for scientific affairs and public health of GSK Vaccines, said we are in a “golden age of vaccine development right now.” He led National Press Foundation fellows through the history of vaccine development, highlighting some of the most important researchers in the field (topping the list: Maurice Hilleman) and then talking about where technology is heading today.

Friedland discussed the history of vaccine development – from the empirical approach, to the use of recombinant DNA, to glycoconjugation, to reverse vaccinology – and then talked about next generation technologies. One of those is using adjuvants in vaccines, meaning a substance that is added to modulate or strengthen the immune response. Those adjuvants generally come from nature – one example: aluminum salts – but they could be developed synthetically.

He also discussed several potentially game-changing technologies that could help in one or more important ways: enhancing a vaccine’s efficacy, allowing for its rapid development, simplifying its manufacturing or reducing its costs. At his companies and others, scientists are working platform technologies that allow for the development of vaccines to work in standardized modules – thus allowing for more efficient development.

What might the future hold? Friedland said that the common vaccine schedule now based on age might be conceptualized differently – clustered around people dealing with poverty, for example, or those who are constant travelers, or those who are immune-compromised from other diseases.

The key, Friedland said, was ensuring that those vaccines actually get into the field. As he told the fellows: “Vaccines don’t save lives. Vaccinations do.”