Wellcome Trust and Merck launch joint venture

Aim is to develop affordable vaccines for low-income countries

Lloyd Dunlap
LONDON—The Wellcome Trust and Merck & Co. Inc. haveannounced the creation of the MSD-Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories, anot-for-profit research and development joint venture that will focus ondeveloping affordable vaccines for diseases that commonly affect low-incomecountries.
 
 
The new venture is named in honor of the pioneering vaccinescientist Dr. Maurice Hilleman, who is credited with the development of morethan 30 vaccines, including measles, mumps and hepatitis B, during a careerthat included nearly 30 years at Merck.
 
 
The joint venture marks the first time a research charityand a pharmaceutical company have partnered to form a separate entity withequally shared funding and decision-making rights. The Wellcome Trust is thelargest charity in the U.K., spending more than $865 million each year tosupport biomedical research.
 
Merck brings expertise in vaccine development in addition toexperience working with a diverse range of stakeholders, includinginternational organizations, governments, non-governmental organizations andphilanthropic organizations to create innovative health solutions (for example,therapeutic interventions and vaccines for use in China, Nicaragua, Botswanaand other countries), notes Merck spokeswoman Amy Rose, director of corporatecommunications.
 
 
"Linking the ingenuity of academic research with theknow-how of industry is vital if we are to produce a new generation of vaccinesto reduce the burden of infectious diseases in low-income countries," says SirMark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust. "The Hilleman Laboratoriespartnership brings together the requisite skills in a powerful way."
 
"There is a critical need to develop new ways for scientificinnovation to be translated effectively into new vaccines that can save livesand protect the health of people living in low-income countries," says RichardT. Clark, chairman, president and CEO of Merck. "The Wellcome Trust's strongtrack record in global public health and biomedical research combined withMerck's expertise in the development and delivery of vaccines positions theHilleman Laboratories to make a real and sustained difference."
 
 
Merck and the Wellcome Trust will invest equally in theR&D joint venture, which will be primed with a combined cash contributionof approximately $130 million over the next seven years and will support astaff of approximately 60 researchers and developers. The venture will be basedin India to facilitate engagement and partnership with a broad range of expertsin vaccine research, policy and manufacturing to develop and mature its R&Dpipeline. India has developed extensive and growing research, development,academic and regulatory capabilities that make it an ideal location, Rosenotes. Furthermore, basing the venture in India will also facilitate engagementand partnership with a broad range of developing country experts in vaccineresearch, policy and manufacturing.
 
 
The Hilleman Laboratories will work to advance projects toproof-of-concept by providing key expertise in product development andoptimization that is typically available only within large vaccine companies.The laboratories will also work with vaccine manufacturers to ensure productioncan be scaled and that the vaccines are affordable. Examples of the kind ofprograms being considered include developing vaccines that do not requirerefrigeration, and a vaccine against group A streptococci, which cause more than 500,000 deaths per yearworldwide. In the first case, breakdown in the cold-chain supply is one of themain factors contributing to vaccine wastage. 
 
WHO estimates that up to 50 percent of vaccines are wastedglobally every year. Improving the thermostability of vaccines could allow formillions more doses to be delivered to those who need them most each year.
 
 
Dr. Altaf A.Lal has been appointed CEO of the HillemanLaboratories. Lal spent 20 years working for the National Center for InfectiousDiseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and wasthe chief of the Molecular Vaccine Section in the Division of ParasiticDiseases. He is currently health attaché and Department of Health and HumanServices regional representative for South Asia at the U.S. Embassy in NewDelhi, India. Lal will soon begin to appoint his staff and identify premises inIndia, with the goal of being operational in 2010.
 

 
Merck and QIAGEN ink $600 million cervical cancervaccination and screening deal
 
 
NEW YORK—Merck & Co. Inc. and QIAGEN NV announced Sept.23 that they will collaborate on a new program to increase access to humanpapillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and HPV DNA testing in some of the mostresource-poor areas of the world.
The companies said the partnership marks the first time avaccine manufacturer and a molecular diagnostics company are collaborating toaddress the burden of cervical cancer with a comprehensive approach.
 
 
The deal, worth an estimated $600 million, will integrateMerck's cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, and QIAGEN's HPV tests, the digeneHC2 HPV DNA Test and a new HPV DNA test that is currently in development foruse specifically in the developing world.
 
Merck will provide up to 5 million doses of Gardasil, andQIAGEN will add to its existing 1 million test donation program by providingHPV DNA tests to screen an additional 500,000 women. The companies plan to seekother public and private partners to design and implement national publicsector cervical cancer programs, provide treatment as needed and supportimprovements in laboratory and vaccine delivery infrastructure, training ofhealthcare workers, education and advocacy. The companies will also work withcervical cancer experts to support the development and implementation of sustainablebest practice models for cervical cancer reduction in low-income, high-diseaseburden countries.

Lloyd Dunlap

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