The Wellcome Trust and Merck & Co. have created a joint venture (JV) in India to focus on developing affordable vaccines to prevent diseases that commonly affect low-income countries. As well as developing new vaccines in areas of unmet need, the MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories will also work on optimizing existing vaccines.
The Hilleman Laboratories has been set up to establish a sustainable R&D organization that operates like a business but with a not-for-profit operating model. Merck and the Wellcome Trust will invest equally in the R&D joint venture, which will be primed with a combined cash contribution of £90 million (approximately $130 million) over the next seven years.
The Hilleman Laboratories will also receive funding from third-party grants and other revenue streams. Over time, it is envisaged it will obtain compensation for its innovations when 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 JV also reportedly marks the first time a research charity and a pharmaceutical company have partnered to form a separate entity with equally shared funding and decision-making rights. “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,” says Sir Mark Walport, director and CEO, the Wellcome Trust. “The Hilleman Laboratories partnership brings together the requisite skills in a powerful way, and Merck is the ideal partner because of its impressive history of innovation and contributions to global health.”
Scientists from academia and government who identify vaccine candidates potentially useful to developing countries often 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. The Hilleman Laboratories will also work with vaccine manufacturers to ensure production can be scaled and that the vaccines are affordable.
An initial portfolio of projects will be selected only after consultation with the international community and careful technical assessment. Programs currently under consideration include developing vaccines that do not require refrigeration and a vaccine against Group A streptococci.