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Merck, Wellcome Trust To Launch Vaccine Center In India To Produce Vaccines For Developing Countries

Pharmaceutical company Merck and the Wellcome Trust have joined together to create a non-profit, £90-million (about $150 million) research center in India to facilitate the development of new vaccines, “including [those for] neglected diseases for which inadequate or no vaccines exist,” Nature News reports. “The move marks the first time that a major medical-research charity and a pharmaceutical company have directly partnered to create vaccines aimed at low-income countries,” according to the journal (Butler, 9/16).

“There is a critical need to develop new ways for scientific innovation to be translated effectively into new vaccines that can save lives and protect the health of people living in low-income countries,” Merck CEO Richard Clark said in a Wellcome Trust press release. “We believe that success in bringing forward these new vaccines can be best achieved through productive partnerships.” Wellcome Trust Director Mark Walport said, “Linking the ingenuity of academic research with the know-how of industry is vital if we are to produce a new generation of vaccines to reduce the burden of infectious diseases in low-income countries” (9/17).

“The joint venture has yet to decide which diseases it will tackle, but will base the decisions on criteria such as scientific and technical feasibility, affordability and whether vaccine formulations will meet the field and other needs of the large procurement agencies such as the WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the GAVI Alliance,” Nature News writes (9/16).

Reuters adds that the center “will focus on fields relevant to low-income countries, such as the production of heat-stable vaccines that do not require refrigeration and the development of a vaccine against Group A streptococci,” (Hirschler, 9/17) which causes more than 500,000 deaths per year worldwide.

The non-profit “will be run as a business, and will be free beyond its … seed funding to pursue partnerships with academics, companies, governments and philanthropic bodies,” according to Nature News. The center plans to team up with local pharmaceutical companies to develop low-cost versions of the vaccines developed by the center. “That’s novel, says [Marie-Paule] Kieny [of the WHO], and may well pave the way for Western vaccine makers to allow generic versions of vaccines, such as those against human papillomavirus or pneumonia, which are available in rich countries but too expensive for poorer ones,” Nature News writes. 

“Affordability will be key in the technical and other choices all along the product design and development path,” said Mark Feinberg, Merck’s vice president of medical affairs and policy. “We really want to lower a lot of the barriers that exist for developing promising products.” The center is expected to open by the end of the year (9/16).