The Race to Save Lives: Vaccine Development Timelines
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Major advancements in medicine have led to a significant increase in average life expectancy, with vaccines being hailed as one of the most successful interventions to date.
In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that vaccines have prevented 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015 alone. But while some were created and distributed in just over four months, others have taken over 40 years to develop. Then again, previous pandemics have petered out without any vaccine at all.
With approved COVID-19 vaccines soon to be distributed across the globe, the vaccine development process is being scrutinized by experts (and non-experts) the world over.
In the graphic above, we explore how long it has historically taken to bring a vaccine to market during pandemics dating back to the 1900s, and what the process entails.
Pandemic Vaccines of the Past
Although the assumption can be made that developing a vaccine for infectious diseases has become more efficient since the 1900s, that statement is not entirely correct.
It took approximately 25 years to develop a vaccine for the Spanish Flu which killed between 40-50 million people. Similarly, it was only last year that the FDA approved the first Ebola vaccine—an effort that took 43 years since the discovery of the virus.
But while scientists and medical experts have made headway in stopping major pandemics in their tracks, some of the worst outbreaks in history have yet to be cured.
Here is a closer look at the timeframes for vaccine development for every pandemic since the turn of the 20th century:
|Name of Pandemic||Death Toll||Timeframe for Vaccine Development||Duration|
|Spanish flu||40-50 million||1917-1942||25 years|
|H2N2 Asian flu||1.1 million||Feb 1957-Jun 1957||<5 months|
|H3N2 Hong Kong Flu||1 million||Jul 1968-Nov 1968||<5 months|
|SARS||774 (ongoing)||2003-present||17 years (ongoing)|
|AIDS||25-35 million (ongoing)||1981-present||39 years (ongoing)|
|H1N1 Swine Flu||151,700 - 575,400||Apr 2009-Sept 2009||6 months|
|MERS||858 (ongoing)||2012-present||8 years (ongoing)|
|Coronavirus||1.64 million (ongoing)||Dec 2019-Nov 2020||11 months|
When it comes to the speedy development of a COVID-19 vaccine, funding has played a vital role. With case numbers growing at an alarming rate, demand and urgency for a vaccine are high. In the U.S., the government paid Pfizer and BioNTech almost $2 billion for 100 million doses of a safe vaccine for COVID-19. This level of support from governments the world over means that pharmaceutical giants have less financial uncertainties to deal with compared to other vaccines.
Even though the global endeavor to distribute COVID-19 vaccines is now underway, many experts are concerned that the pace of approval could compromise long-term safety—but there are rigorous steps a vaccine must first go through before it is approved.
The Journey of a Vaccine Candidate
On average, it takes 10 years to develop a vaccine. According to the CDC, there are six stages involved in the process from start to finish:
- Exploratory stage: This stage typically consists of basic lab research that can last anywhere from 2 to 4 years.
- Pre-clinical stage: This stage uses tissue-culture or cell-culture systems and animal testing to give researchers an idea of how humans might respond to a candidate vaccine.
- Clinical development: Within the clinical development stage, there are three phases. Phase 1 examines the response of a small group of people to a candidate vaccine. Phase 2 involves giving the candidate vaccine to a larger group of people to study its safety, immunogenicity, proposed doses, schedule of immunizations, and method of delivery. In Phase 3, the vaccine is given to thousands of people to further test for efficacy and safety.
- Regulatory review and approval: National Regulatory Authorities are responsible for the approval of vaccines in different countries. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) regulates all U.S. vaccines.
- Manufacturing: Typically, it can take anywhere from 6 to 36 months to produce, package, and deliver a high quality vaccine.
- Quality control: Different batches of a vaccine are continuously tested by different authorities around the world to ensure its ongoing safety.
Despite these lengthy timeframes, the COVID-19 vaccines and subsequent candidates have overturned the conventional process due to their unconventional technology.
Innovative Technologies Driving COVID’s Cure
Even though there are no approved vaccines for other coronaviruses such as MERS and SARS, previous research into these diseases has helped identify potential solutions for COVID-19 using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.
“The mRNA vaccine platform technology [which the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine uses] has been in development for over two decades.”
—Dr Zoltán Kis, Imperial College London.
The technology instructs our bodies to produce a small part of the COVID-19 virus called a spike protein. This triggers the immune system to make antibodies to fight against it and prepares the body for an actual COVID-19 infection.
Containing COVID-19 Batch-by-Batch
Deployment of a safe and effective vaccine could have the potential to save millions of lives and prevent infection for many more.
Although some experts have criticized the speed of vaccine candidate approvals, the quality will be closely monitored on a batch-by-batch basis.
With the COVID-19 crisis showing no signs of slowing down, most of us continue to live in hope that the light is at the end of the tunnel.
Visualizing the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies
The world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies are worth $4.1 trillion. Here we map the top 100 companies based on their market cap value.
Who are the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies?
Some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have played a central role in the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, it’s likely no surprise that the pandemic has also been great for many healthcare businesses. In fact, in 2020 alone, the world’s 50 largest pharmaceutical companies still combined for a whopping $851 billion in revenues.
In this graphic, using data from Companies Market Cap, we list the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world by market capitalization. It’s worth noting this list also includes healthcare companies that work closely with pharmaceuticals, including biotech, pharmaceutical retailers, clinical laboratories, etc.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this graphic was missing some key companies such as GSK and AbbVie. They were unfortunately not included in the original source and we are now working to make sure there were no other smaller omissions. Thanks to all that sent in corrections.
The Pharmaceutical Leaders
To start, here are the top five biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world at the moment by market capitalization:
1. Johnson & Johnson
The pharmaceutical and consumer goods giant is worth $428.7 billion in market cap. They developed the third vaccine authorized for use in the U.S. and were named among the TIME100 Most Influential Companies List in 2021.
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant is at the forefront of oncology, immunology, infectious diseases, ophthalmology, and neuroscience. In 2019, Roche’s pharma segment sales rose by a healthy 16% to $53 billion.
Despite being the leading COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer in North America, Pfizer slid in the rankings to third place. The company has recently gained momentum, especially in the past quarter, with Q2’2021 revenues of $19.0 billion, reflecting a 86% operational growth from 2020.
4. Eli Lilly
Eli Lilly has taken a significant step towards establishing itself as a pharmaceutical industry leader. Having a market cap value of $125 billion in 2019, Eli Lilly has jumped to a current value of $214.9 billion, a significant growth of 72%.
The second-biggest pharmaceutical company out of Switzerland, Novartis has been the face of the pharma industry for about 25 years. The primary manufacturer for the most recognizable drugs on the market pulled in a revenue of over $48 billion in 2020, a 3% increase compared to 2019.
Here’s how all the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world stack up against each other:
|Company Rank||Company Name||Market Cap Value||Country|
|1||Johnson & Johnson|
|$428.66 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$320.41 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|$219.39 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$208.99 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$207.70 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|$202.60 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$191.67 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$187.83 B||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|$152.28 B||🇬🇧 UK|
|$145.80 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$136.50 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$130.37 B||🇫🇷 France|
|$110.49 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$104.30 B||🇬🇧 UK|
|$103.10 B||🇦🇺 Australia|
|$83.62 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$83.25 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$80.61 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|$59.43 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|20||Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine |
|$58.51 B||🇨🇳 China|
|$55.83 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$55.00 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$54.23 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|$52.67 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$52.16 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|26||Walgreens Boots Alliance|
|$45.05 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$33.80 B||🇰🇷 S. Korea|
|$33.42 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$31.65 B||🇨🇳 China|
|$31.20 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$26.59 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|32||Hansoh Pharma |
|$26.00 B||🇨🇳 China|
|$25.97 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|34||Otsuka Holdings |
|$23.15 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|35||Horizon Therapeutics |
|$21.13 B||🇮🇪 Ireland|
|36||Alnylam Pharmaceuticals |
|$20.42 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$18.85 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$18.74 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$18.48 B||🇭🇰 Hong Kong|
|$17.25 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$16.26 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$16.03 B||🇳🇱 Netherlands|
|$15.29 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$11.88 B||🇮🇳 India|
|45||Teva Pharmaceutical Industries|
|$11.21 B||🇮🇱 Israel|
|46||Ono Pharmaceutical |
|$11.12 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$11.09 B||🇮🇪 Ireland|
|48||Bausch Health |
|$10.47 B||🇨🇦 Canada|
|$10.42 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|$10.33 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|51||Hualan Biological Engineering|
|$10.31 B||🇨🇳 China|
|$9.49 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|53||Neurocrine Biosciences |
|$9.45 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$9.42 B||🇨🇳 China|
|55||BridgeBio Pharma |
|$8.89 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|56||Cadila Healthcare |
|$8.59 B||🇮🇳 India|
|57||Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma |
|$8.16 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$7.89 B||🇨🇦 Canada|
|59||Ascendis Pharma |
|$7.51 B||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|$7.19 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|61||Lupin Limited |
|$7.04 B||🇮🇳 India|
|62||Gland Pharma |
|$7.01 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$6.95 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|64||GW Pharmaceuticals |
|$6.81 B||🇬🇧 UK|
|$6.78 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|66||Torrent Pharmaceuticals |
|$6.61 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$6.43 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$6.32 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|69||Sarepta Therapeutics |
|$6.25 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$6.21 B||🇮🇪 Ireland|
|$6.11 B||🇫🇮 Finland|
|$6.04 B||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|$5.87 B||🇨🇦 Canada|
|74||Adaptive Biotechnologies |
|$5.69 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|75||Intellia Therapeutics |
|$5.62 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|76||Santen Pharmaceutical |
|$5.49 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$5.46 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|78||Beam Therapeutics |
|$5.43 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|79||Reata Pharmaceuticals |
|$5.15 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|80||Swedish Orphan Biovitrum|
|$5.13 B||🇸🇪 Sweden|
|81||BB Biotech |
|$5.08 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|82||Alkem Laboratories |
|$5.00 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$4.69 B||🇮🇳 India|
|84||Laurus Labs |
|$4.44 B||🇮🇳 India|
|85||Taisho Pharmaceutical |
|$4.39 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|86||Hanmi Pharmaceutical |
|$4.22 B||🇰🇷 S. Korea|
|$3.87 B||🇮🇪 Ireland|
|$3.71 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$3.65 B||🇰🇷 S. Korea|
|$3.55 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|91||Ipca Laboratories |
|$3.41 B||🇮🇳 India|
|92||Nektar Therapeutics |
|$3.02 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|93||BioCryst Pharmaceuticals |
|$3.01 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$2.96 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$2.84 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|96||Rocket Pharmaceuticals |
|$2.74 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|97||Axsome Therapeutics |
|$2.65 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|98||Natco Pharma |
|$2.63 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$2.59 B||🇮🇳 India|
|100||Editas Medicine |
|$2.54 B||🇺🇸 USA|
World’s Largest Pharmaceutical Exporters and Importers
According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), these countries exported the most number of pharmaceuticals in the year 2019:
|Rank||Country||Export Value (US$B)|
In contrast, here are the biggest importers over the same period.
|Rank||Country||Import Value (US$B)|
This position is hardly surprising for the U.S., where six of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies are headquartered. The country also captures 45% of the global market.
The Future of Pharmaceutical Companies
If the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that in building a patient-centered future, the pharmaceutical industry plays a key role. It has to constantly find new ways to customize medicines while researching and developing new tools and drugs.
By embracing disruptive technologies like 3D printed drugs, artificial intelligence guided therapies, and preventive medicine while working with regulatory agencies, the pharmaceutical companies will benefit from having a digital revolution.
Furthermore, emerging markets will have a more significant say in the global pharmaceutical market in the coming years. Even though ‘big pharma’ will keep raking in the massive profits they do every year, their reliance on countries like Brazil and India for research and drug production will significantly impact the years to come.
When Will Your Country Recover from the Pandemic?
The path to COVID-19 recovery varies worldwide—some countries have already recovered, while others will not be back to normal for years.
What started as a novel virus in China quickly became a sweeping disease that shut down the world and put a 1.5 year halt on the global economy.
But while some countries’ economies are already back to normal, others are lagging far behind.
COVID-19 Recovery Timelines, by OECD Country
This chart using data from the OECD anticipates when countries will economically recover from the global pandemic, based on getting back to pre-pandemic levels of GDP per capita.
Note: The categorization of ‘advanced’ or ‘emerging’ economy was determined by OECD standards.
The Leaders of the Pack
At the top, China and the U.S. are recovering at breakneck speed. In fact, recovering is the wrong word for China, as they reached pre-pandemic GDP per capita levels just after Q2’2020.
On the other end, some countries are looking at years—not months—when it comes to their recovery date. Saudi Arabia isn’t expected to recover until after Q1’2024, and Argentina is estimated to have an even slower recovery, occurring only after Q2’2026.
|🇧🇪 Belgium||After Q4 2022||Advanced|
|🇸🇪 Sweden||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇸🇰 Slovakia||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇩🇪 Germany||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇪🇪 Estonia||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇩🇰 Denmark||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇮🇸 Iceland||After Q3 2023||Advanced|
|🇸🇮 Slovenia||After Q3 2022||Advanced|
|🇵🇹 Portugal||After Q3 2022||Advanced|
|🇫🇷 France||After Q3 2022||Advanced|
|🇦🇹 Austria||After Q3 2022||Advanced|
|🇵🇱 Poland||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇳🇴 Norway||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇱🇺 Luxembourg||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇱🇻 Latvia||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇯🇵 Japan||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇫🇮 Finland||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇪🇸 Spain||After Q2 2023||Advanced|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇳🇱 Netherlands||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇮🇹 Italy||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇬🇷 Greece||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇨🇿 Czech Republic||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇨🇦 Canada||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇺🇸 United States||After Q2 2021||Advanced|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||After Q2 2021||Advanced|
|🇮🇪 Ireland||After Q2 2021||Advanced|
|🇨🇭 Switzerland||After Q1 2022||Advanced|
|🇮🇱 Israel||After Q1 2022||Advanced|
|🇭🇺 Hungary||After Q1 2022||Advanced|
|🇦🇺 Australia||After Q1 2022||Advanced|
|🇱🇹 Lithuania||After Q1 2021||Advanced|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||After Q4 2022||Emerging|
|🇮🇩 Indonesia||After Q4 2021||Emerging|
|🇮🇳 India||After Q4 2021||Emerging|
|🇲🇽 Mexico||After Q3 2023||Emerging|
|🇨🇴 Colombia||After Q3 2022||Emerging|
|🇧🇷 Brazil||After Q3 2022||Emerging|
|🇨🇱 Chile||After Q3 2021||Emerging|
|🇹🇷 Turkey||After Q3 2020||Emerging|
|🇦🇷 Argentina||After Q2 2026||Emerging|
|🇨🇷 Costa Rica||After Q2 2023||Emerging|
|🇷🇺 Russia||After Q2 2021||Emerging|
|🇨🇳 China||After Q2 2020||Emerging|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||After Q1 2024||Emerging|
Most countries will hit pre-pandemic levels of GDP per capita by the end of 2022. The slowest recovering advanced economies—Iceland and Spain—aren’t expected to bounce back until 2023.
Four emerging economies are speeding ahead, and are predicted to get back on their feet by the end of this year or slightly later (if they haven’t already):
- 🇷🇺 Russia: after Q2’2021
- 🇨🇱 Chile: after Q3’2021
- 🇮🇳 India: after Q4’2021
- 🇮🇩 Indonesia: after Q4’2021
However, no recovery is guaranteed, and many countries will continue face setbacks as waves of COVID-19 variants hit—India, for example, was battling its biggest wave as recently as May 2021.
Why are some countries recovering faster than others? One factor seems to be vaccination rates.
|Country||Doses Administered per 100 People||Total Doses Administered||Percent of Population Fully Vaccinated|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||122||81,438,892||53%|
|Trinidad and Tobago||27||375,924||11%|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||23||25,509||–|
|West Bank & Gaza||20||958,519||9%|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||18||37,716||5%|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||14||470,218||5%|
|Republic of the Congo||3||163,742||–|
|Central African Republic||1.7||78,685||–|
|Papua New Guinea||0.6||51,170||<0.1%|
As of July 16th, 2021.
The higher the rate of vaccination, the harder it is for COVID-19 to spread. This gives countries a chance to loosen restrictions, let people get back to work and regular life, and fuel the economy. Additionally, the quicker vaccines are rolled out, the less time there is for variants to mutate.
Another factor is the overall strength of a country’s healthcare infrastructure. More advanced economies often have more ICU capacity, more efficient dissemination of public health information, and, simply, more hospital staff. These traits help better handle the pandemic, with reduced cases, less restrictions, and a speedy recovery.
Finally, the level of government support and fiscal stimulus injected into different economies has determined how swiftly they’ve recovered. Similar to the disparity in vaccine rollouts, there was a significant fiscal stimulus gap, especially during the heat of the pandemic.
Recovering to Normal?
Many experts and government leaders are now advocating for funneling more money into healthcare infrastructure and disease research preventatively. The increased funding now would help stop worldwide shut downs and needless loss of life in future.
Time will tell when we return to “normal” everywhere, however, normal will likely never be the same. Many impacts of the global pandemic will stay with us over the long term.
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