The race for a vaccine

A health care scholar changing the way markets work, David Ridley proposed a program to incentivize drug companies to develop vaccines for neglected diseases. After becoming U.S. law, David’s idea has not only aided in vaccine development but has produced more than a billion dollars in value. He sheds light on the market dynamics at play in developing a vaccine for COVID-19 and describes why business school training may be more important than ever.

Dean Bill Boulding interviews David Ridley on Instagram

David Ridley, Dr. and Mrs. Frank A. Riddick Professor of the Practice

“There are two partners in this dance, one is the person working for a health care organization. The other partner is the government. And it’s obviously an incredibly important dance that we are talking about. Its life and death. For the one partner, the person from business, it’s important to understand how different health care is because it is life and death, because the government is a regulator and a payer. We have massive responsibility and we need to take that responsibility very seriously. The government is going to give us some market exclusivity. They are going to give us a patent. In terms of hospitals, they are going to give us a certificate of need to add a bed or to add some imaging technology. And we can’t treat this like other industries. ‘Wow. We’ve got market power. Let’s shoot the price through the roof.’ You just can’t do that in health care. You’ve got to understand who your partner is and how important your partner is in this dance.”


“I had a piece in USAToday last week and it was in response to much of what I had been reading in the news that I think is wrong. There are a lot of vaccine makers out there expressing optimism. They want to make a difference in the world. The scientists at these companies, the business people at these companies want to help. And I applaud that. But some of their optimism is being misconstrued as certainty. They are optimistic that they can do this so it means it’s going to happen. And it is going to happen fast. The challenge is, even if we get the science right, it takes time to make all these vaccines. We’ve got 8 billion people on this planet. And if it is like the human papilloma virus. You may need two doses per person. So the HPV vaccine, which my daughters had not too long ago, they needed two doses or even three doses. So now we need 16 billion doses, 24 billion doses. It’s going to take time to make the vaccine for everyone. I am optimistic that we will get a vaccine eventually. But it is going to take time to make all those doses. We have a couple hundred million health care workers in the world. Presumably, first in the queue. So my point is that this is going to take time. And I’m not a pessimist, I am an optimist. I have great faith in humanity and our creativity and resourcefulness to get through this and to come up with solutions. Changes in behavior, testing, repurposing existing drugs. But we have to be patient. It’s going to take time to have that vaccine made at scale.”


“We need to be healthy and confident that we are going to be healthy to get back to work, to go back to spending money and going back to interacting with other human beings. These are incredibly interconnected. Fortunately, I am so optimistic about both our ability to solve health care problems, but also figure out how to do business differently. That we can be creative in how we structure our businesses. For example, these sorts of interactions we are having right now.”


“I am fortunate to work in health care, which is always interesting. Our Health Sector Management students never have a dull moment. Whether it is expansion of insurance with the Obamacare exchanges, whether it is the government introducing the first biosimilars, whether it is prior to review vouchers – whatever it is, it is always very interesting in health care. That’s my space and I think we got a lot of great tools to bring here.


“Speaking beyond health care, any time there is this change, this creates opportunities. And here at the business school we’ve got people who think big and have the tools to apply to new situations. I think there has never been a better time to go to business school.”


Quick Facts

Area: Strategy

Elective Course: Biotech and Pharmaceutical Strategy

Researches: Innovation, location, and pricing, especially in health care

Street Cred:

Creator of the Priority Review Voucher Program, now U.S. law

Faculty Director of Health Sector Management program

Duke-Margolis Health Policy Center, Faculty Executive Committee

Leader of the Health Sector Advisory Council


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