The Japanese government has earmarked $2 billion in funding for vaccine research in an effort to make sure its country is better prepared for any future pandemic, according to Nature. Japan lagged behind other countries not just in developing vaccines, but also in approving them when it came to COVID-19. As the publication points out, three of Japan's most advanced COVID-19 vaccine candidates are still undergoing clinical trials. To prevent a repeat, the country established the Strategic Center of Biomedical Advanced Vaccine Research and Development for Preparedness and Response (SCARDA) back in March.
SCARDA's central research center will be based in Tokyo, but it will be supported by four core institutes, namely Osaka University, Nagasaki University, Hokkaido University and Chiba University. The $2 billion funding is supposed to keep it running for five years. $1.2 billion will go towards the center's vaccine research and development projects, while $400 million will be spent on supporting start-ups in drug development. The other $400 million will go towards setting up a network of research centers across the nation, as well as towards vaccine testing.
SCARDA will initially focus on developing vaccines for eight infectious diseases, including COVID-19, monkeypox, SARS, dengue and Zika virus. Its researchers will look into various types of vaccine technologies, as well, such as mRNA and viral vectors. The center aims "to find seeds for future vaccines," but its ultimate goal is to be able to conjure up diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatments within 100 days of the identification of a pathogen that has the potential to become a pandemic.
It was the UK government that first proposed the 100-day response goal, based on what it learned from COVID-19. "The first 100 days when faced with a pandemic or epidemic threat are crucial to changing its course and, ideally, preventing it from becoming a pandemic," the UK wrote in its pandemic preparedness report to the G7. According to the World Health Organization, it recorded over 2.5 million cases and 200,000 deaths 100 days after it declared COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern. A swift response from the start could've prevented those numbers from getting any higher.