Vaccines have been successful in preventing disease, but that does not mean they will hurt the market to test for those diseases, say new forecasts.

Even if vaccines are developed and widely distributed, the global market for infectious-disease in vitro diagnostics (IVD) will grow by an average of 5% a year from 2012 to 2017, when it will be worth $18.3 billion, according to market research firm Kalorama Information.

“One would expect that the eventual impact of a successful vaccine strategy would be the complete eradication of the disease and, therefore, little or no use for a diagnostic test for that particular disease,” says Shara Rosen, Kalorama analyst and author of the report.

“However, in light of the recent re-emergence of tuberculosis, measles and malaria, and the persistence of polio, it is unrealistic to think that a disease could be totally eliminated around the world at the same time,” she adds.

The report notes that pathogens constantly change their genetic make-up, which challenges the development of vaccines against infectious diseases. This genetic flexibility allows many infectious agents to mutate or evolve into more deadly strains against which humans have little or no resistance. The HIV and influenza viruses, for example, constantly mutate and recombine to find their way through the host defence mechanisms.

The report also suggests that the vaccine market may not be strong enough to encourage sufficient entrants for all the possible infectious diseases. Even existing vaccine markets sometimes fail, it points out.

For example, after the flu epidemic scare of 2009 resulted in a shortage of flu vaccines, the industry took steps to avoid this happening in future, and in 2012 companies produced about 145 million doses. However, only about 129 million doses were actually distributed. 

And in 2011, companies lost even more on the flu vaccine because it was such a light flu season and fewer people decided to get the shot.

Because these diseases can be unpredictable, companies have entered the market “cautiously,” says the study, adding that, for these reasons, the traditional testing and treatment model will play a long-term role in combating the scourge of infectious disease.