Research Highlights / Full Story

Combination vaccines for young children are commonly used in industrialized nations because they provide protection for multiple diseases in one single injection. However, combination vaccines are prohibitively expensive for developing countries and may not be available until several years after they are commercialized in industrialized countries, when market prices become more affordable.

As a result, the choice of vaccines used by the developing and industrialized world to immunize children against similar pediatric diseases is rapidly diverging.

Ruben Proano, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering at RIT, together with Sheldon Jacobson, professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, and Wenbo Zhang, a graduate engineering student at RIT, are working to reduce the cost of combination vaccines and increase their use in the developing world. Through the utilization of optimization models, Proano is seeking to determine conditions that would make the vaccine market financially more attractive.

Optimization models are used to assess the best possible choice from a set of alternatives. Proano's team used the technique to determine the most affordable and profitable price for combination vaccines that can be offered to different market segments.

"We can recommend how many vaccine doses each market segment should buy, the vaccine producers that best meet particular demand, and the range of prices available per dose," he adds. "Using optimization modeling and considering the vaccine market as a whole can allow for a more efficient negotiation between buyers and sellers in which both can come out ahead."

The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and results were published in Omega, an international journal of operations management.

Proano has also sought to enhance global understanding of vaccine supply problems and promote the use of optimization models as a potential solution. This includes presenting his research at the United Nations in New York City and serving as a member of an Institute of Medicine expert panel on how to model vaccine prioritization.

"It is my hope this work will lead to the implementation of optimization modeling in vaccine supply, demand, and pricing both by individual producers and by international bodies such as the World Health Organization, ultimately increasing combination vaccine use and lowering its cost," he adds.