India will be the base for the proposed joint venture between Merck Inc and the Wellcome Trust to produce affordable vaccines for low-income countries.
The Merck-Wellcome Trust joint initiative, to named MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories, will be based in India with a not-for-profit mission to focus on developing affordable vaccines to prevent diseases that commonly affect low-income countries.
MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories marks the first time a research charity Wellcome Trust and a global pharmaceutical giant Merck Inc joining hands company have partnered to form a separate entity to integrate the best of both to drive the investment and expertise needed to develop and deliver vaccines to low-income countries.
Merck and the Wellcome Trust will invest equally in the R&D joint venture MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories. The nature of funding will be a combined cash contribution of 90 million GBP (approximately 130 million USD) over the next seven years and will support a staff of approximately 60 researchers and developers. Both Merck and Wellcome trust will have equally shared funding and decision-making rights.
India has been chosen as the base for MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories to facilitate engagement and partnership with a broad range of experts in vaccine research, policy and manufacturing to develop and mature its R&D pipeline.
MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories’ location in India is yet to be selected. However, the venture is expected to open by the end of next year.
MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories’ concept is the creation of a sustainable R&D organization that operates like a business, but with a not-for-profit operating model, to address the vaccine needs of low-income countries.
Besides developing new vaccines in areas of unmet need, the Hilleman Laboratories will also work on optimizing existing vaccines. Merck and Wellcome Trust believe that optimization of existing vaccines is an important and powerful way of increasing the impact of vaccination in resource-limited settings.
“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,” said Richard T. Clark, Chairman, President and CEO, Merck & Co., Inc in a press release.
The Wellcome Trust’s strong track record in global public health and biomedical research combined with Merck’s expertise in the development and delivery of vaccines positions the Hilleman Laboratories to make a real and sustained difference, Mr Clark hoped.
MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories will also collaborate with local pharmaceutical companies that can cheaply produce any vaccines it develops.Through this model, the Hilleman Laboratories will help deliver vaccines to registration that are specifically designed to meet the needs and practical realities in developing countries.
This could also pave 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.
Many scientists from academia and government identify vaccine candidates potentially useful to developing countries, but then face significant technical challenges in designing suitable vaccine formulations, production processes and clinical programs.
The Hilleman Laboratories will work to advance projects to ‘proof of concept’ by providing key expertise in product development and optimization that is typically available only within large vaccine companies.
“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,” stated Sir Mark Walport, Director and CEO, the Wellcome Trust.
Though the initial portfolio of vaccines to be produced is yet to be finalized, Hilleman Laboratories considers programs including developing vaccines that do not require refrigeration, and a vaccine against Group A streptococci which causes more than 500,000 deaths per year worldwide.
A Strategic Advisory Group of internationally-recognized, independent experts. Dr. David Heymann, Chairman of the UK’s Health Protection Agency and former Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization, will serve as chair of the panel to provide some of the key input to the Hilleman Laboratories in this respect.
Altaf A. Lal, who spent 20 years working for the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was the Chief of the Molecular Vaccine Section in the Division of Parasitic Diseases, has been appointed chief executive officer of the Hilleman Laboratories.
Dr. Lal is currently Health Attaché and Department of Health and Human Services Regional Representative for South Asia at the Embassy of the United States of America, New Delhi, India.
The Hilleman Laboratories will operate with a combination of core funding from the founders, third party grants, and other revenue streams. Over time, it is envisaged it will receive compensation for its innovations where these are leveraged in higher income settings. The aim will be to attract multiple sources of income to support the mission of the organization so that its impact can be sustained as it builds on its early success.
The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the United Kingdom. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas.