[Ip-health] Watch Out Big Pharma: PATH, WHO Show that Nonprofits Can Develop New Meningitis Vaccine
jdr at ramoslink.info
Wed Dec 8 22:36:53 PST 2010
Watch Out Big Pharma: PATH, WHO Show that Nonprofits Can Develop New
Luke Timmerman 12/8/10
Only a few giant corporations on the planet—companies like Merck,
GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi-Aventis—are thought to have the money, the
know-how, and the infrastructure to develop new vaccines that can make a
really big impact on public health.
So when a little nonprofit from Seattle called PATH is able to band
together with some officials at the World Health Organization to develop
a new vaccine against a deadly bug in Africa that the big guys weren’t
interested in—that’s what we in the journalism business call a story.
This is about going on a long and risky journey, persevering against
long odds, to do something potentially really important.
This week, PATH has been featured in the New York Times, the Seattle
Times, and on the KPLU website for its work in developing a new vaccine
for meningitis, called MenAfriVac. On Monday, people across Burkina
Faso, Mali, and Niger started getting their shots to protect them
against this seasonal bug. I got a very absorbing perspective on this
odyssey by talking with PATH president Chris Elias a couple weeks ago.
He talked about what it takes to develop a vaccine that can protect
people from this bacterial infection, at a cost of just 50 cents a dose.
Much heavy lifting has been done, and much more is come, as the goal is
to give this vaccine to at least 12 million kids and young adults this
Feasible as it may have been, the big vaccine makers weren’t interested.
They would have to convert their facilities from using other carrier
proteins for their other vaccines—which would be a difficult process.
PATH’s Elias, never one to cast a stone against his industry partners,
described this exchange diplomatically. “They were making reasonable
business decisions on opportunity cost,” Elias says.
PATH and the WHO found a willing partner in the Serum Institute of
India, the world’s largest producer of measles and diphtheria, pertussis
(whooping cough) and tetanus vaccines. The Serum Institute, founded in
1966 according to its website, makes half of the vaccines that UNICEF
purchases, Elias says. “They make high-volume, high-quality vaccines.
They are making basic vaccines for kids in poor countries,” Elias says.
So, true to form for PATH, partnerships were the key. It found one
partner in the Netherlands—Synco Bio Partners—to make the essential
polysaccharide ingredient for the meningitis A vaccine. The Serum
Institute was asked to make the tetanus toxoid to make the vaccine more
potent. Then the vaccine developers licensed a technology invented at
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s labs in Bethesda, MD for
conjugating vaccine components together. The story required lots of
actors in Europe, India, and the U.S....
Joana Ramos, MSW
Cancer Resources& Advocacy
Seattle WA USA
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