A New Wave of Vaccines for Non-Communicable Diseases: What Are the Regulatory Challenges?

Food Drug Law J. 2015;70(2):243-58, i.


Vaccines represent one of the greatest achievements of medicine, dramatically reducing the incidence of serious or life-threatening infectious diseases and allowing people to live longer, healthier lives. As life expectancy has increased, however, the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and diabetes has increased. This shifting burden of disease has heightened the already urgent need for therapies that treat or prevent NCDs, a need that is now being met with increased efforts to develop NCD vaccines. Like traditional vaccines, NCD vaccines work by modulating the human immune system, but target cells, proteins or other molecules that are associated with the NCD in question rather than pathogens or pathogen-infected cells. Efforts are underway to develop NCD vaccines to address not only cancer and hypertension, but also addiction, obesity, asthma, arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn's disease, among others. NCD vaccines present an interesting challenge for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is tasked with approving new treatments on the basis of efficacy and safety. Should NCD vaccines be evaluated under the same analytic frame as traditional vaccines, or that of biologic drugs? Despite the borrowed nomenclature, NCD vaccines differ in important ways from infectious disease vaccines. Because infectious disease vaccines are generally administered to healthy individuals, often children, tolerance for adverse events is low and willingness to pay is limited. It is important to have infectious disease vaccines even for rare or eradicated disease (e.g., smallpox), in the event of an outbreak. The efficacy of infectious disease vaccines is generally high, and the vaccines convey population level benefits associated with herd immunity and potential eradication. The combination of substantial population-level benefits, low willingness to pay, and low tolerance for adverse events explains the need for the federal National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Act, which encourages production and uptake by providing immunity from liability to industry and compensation to injured patients. These characteristics and considerations contrast sharply with those of NCD vaccines, raising the question of whether the term "vaccine" is appropriate for this new category of drugs. The article explores the emerging class of NCD vaccines, explains how they differ from traditional vaccines, and describes some regulatory implications of this innovative type of therapeutic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Drug Approval / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Herd
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration
  • Vaccines*


  • Vaccines