We look at the circumstances in which a coronavirus vaccine was not developed before the outbreak of the crisis. Examination of such a missed opportunity and the potential institutional framework in which a recurrence could be avoided should shed light on the broader issue of financing expensive drugs for rare diseases. It is essential to provide appropriate incentives and subsidies to pharmaceutical companies to invest in vaccines, drugs and diagnostics, both in normal times, before the pandemic, and in the current situation.
We propose to develop a taxonomy of pharmaceutical companies and identify those most likely to engage – and those most likely to succeed – in the development of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for COVID-19. Assessing the distribution of research efforts among small companies, large companies and universities can provide important – and urgent – insights into the design of policies to encourage and support pharmaceutical innovation to combat COVID-19 and other diseases.