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JV for affordable vaccines to launch next year

December 01, 2009 03:17 IST
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MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories, the joint venture to develop affordable vaccines for low-income countries, will take off by next year.

The assurance was given by Mervyn J Turner, chief strategy officer at Merck & Co. The JV is between The Wellcome Trust and Merck & Co.

The vaccine development centre of the venture will come up in Delhi and encourage joint research programmes in a public-private partnership model, he said. The facility will house about 60 researchers and developers.

This not-for-profit initiative of Hilleman Laboratories will be positioned as a major centre for vaccine research across the globe.

Indian universities, research and drug companies may join this initiative, that operates like a business, but with a not-for-profit operating model to address the needs of low-income countries, said Turner.

"Hilleman Laboratories is now in the process of identifying and finalising the disease specific targets to undertake research," said the executive. 

Merck and Wellcome Trust are planning to invest equally in the JV, with a combined cash contribution of $130 million (or Rs 6,000 crore) over the next seven years. Hilleman Laboratories plans to operate with a combination of core funding from the founders, third-party grants, and other revenue streams to develop a pipeline of vaccines.

Sources said Altaf A Lal, former health attaché at the US embassy in India has been appointed chief executive officer of MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories. The organisation has also started hiring staff.

David Heymann, chairman of the UK's Health Protection Agency and former Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization is heading a  chair of a Strategic Advisory Group of internationally known independent experts that advise the venture, they said.

They said the new project is designed to fill an important gap in how vaccines get developed, as vaccine candidates potentially useful to developing countries face significant technical challenges. Hilleman Laboratories will work to advance projects to 'proof of concept', by providing expertise in product development and optimisation that is typically available only within large vaccine companies.

They will also work with vaccine manufacturers to ensure production can be scaled and the vaccines are affordable.

Through this model, Hilleman will help deliver vaccines specifically designed to meet the needs and practical realities in developing countries.

The new entity is named after pioneering vaccine scientist Maurice Hilleman, who is credited with the development of more than 30 vaccines, including measles, mumps, and hepatitis B during a career which included nearly 30 years at Merck.

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