[Ip-health] Watch Out Big Pharma: PATH, WHO Show that Nonprofits Can Develop New Meningitis Vaccine

Joana Ramos jdr at ramoslink.info
Wed Dec 8 22:36:53 PST 2010


Watch Out Big Pharma: PATH, WHO Show that Nonprofits Can Develop New 
Meningitis Vaccine
Luke Timmerman 12/8/10
Xconomy: Seattle

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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