Vaccines for low-income countries

Sep 25, 2009

A joint venture between a charity and a pharma giant has led to the creation of the Hilleman Laboratories, which will use a not-for-profit operating model to develop and deliver vaccines to low-income countries.

The new entity, created by Merck & Co., Inc. (NJ, USA) and the Wellcome Trust (UK), will be based in India and will seek to develop vaccines in areas of unmet need, as well as to optimize vaccines to increase their impact when resources are limited. It was named in honour of the vaccine scientist Maurice Hilleman, who developed more than 30 vaccines and spent almost 30 years of his career at Merck.

"We believe that success in bringing forward these new vaccines can be best achieved through productive partnerships. The Wellcome Trust's strong record in global public health and biomedical research combined with Merck's expertise in the development and delivery of vaccines positions Hilleman Laboratories to make a real and sustained difference," Richard T. Clark, Chairman, President and CEO of Merck & Co., Inc., said in a press statement.

According to the statement, Hilleman Laboratories will "fill an important gap in how vaccines are made". Often, there are significant technical challenges in developing vaccines that may be potentially useful to developing companies, including the design of suitable vaccine formulations and production processes. By providing key expertise, which is usually only available in large vaccine companies, Hilleman Laboratories will help to advance projects to proof of concept, and will also help to ensure that production can be scaled up and that the vaccines will be affordable.

The CEO of Hilleman Laboratories will be Altaf A. Lal, who spent 20 years working for the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and is currently Health Attache and Department of Health and Human Services Regional Representative for South Asia at the US embassy in New Delhi (India).

Both Merck and the Wellcome Trust will contribute equally to the funding of the new entity during the next 7 years, and both parties will share decision-making rights. With time, it is hoped that Hilleman Laboratories will attract additional sources of income and that it will receive compensation for its innovations.

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