Following a passion is one thing, but following a passion that also benefits millions of people worldwide? That’s pretty rare – and Dr Nicolas Collin is doing just that. Here, he tells us more about his work in the field of not-for-profit vaccine development.
Tell us about the journey that led you to where you are today.
When I was six years old, I decided I wanted to be a vet. I graduated from the National Veterinary School of Toulouse in 2002. During my last year there, I realised what I loved most was scientific reasoning – investigating the ‘why’ behind scientific work. So I did a PhD in virology and have worked in the field of vaccination ever since.
I was working at the WHO when the 2009 swine flu pandemic hit. This was a pivotal time for me. I discovered what global health was about and how an organisation like the WHO can impact the lives of millions, if not billions, of people. My colleagues and I discussed the idea of creating a platform focused on adjuvants, ingredients in vaccines that improve the immune response, and so VFI was born. It first started in 2010 within the University of Lausanne but has since been established as an independent, not-for-profit organisation based in Geneva and Biopôle Lausanne.
What is VFI’s mission?
VFI’s main mission is to develop and provide adjuvants – ingredients that can be added to vaccines to create a stronger immune response – to the entire vaccine community. Everything started with a gap we identified at the WHO. Adjuvants have historically been owned by a handful of vaccine developers. This is because there’s no incentive for these developers to share adjuvants that work for their vaccines with competitors. To us, this was an ethical conundrum – and those who lost out were typically low- and middle-income countries.
So we opened a centre of expertise to provide adjuvants of quality to the whole vaccine community on an open-source basis. We also provide the expertise and know-how to equip manufacturers with the capacity to make high-quality vaccines at an affordable price.