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Wellcome Trust and Merck launch joint venture
October 2009
by Lloyd Dunlap  |  Email the author
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LONDON—The Wellcome Trust and Merck & Co. Inc. have announced the creation of the MSD-Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories, a not-for-profit research and development joint venture that will focus on developing affordable vaccines for diseases that commonly affect low-income countries.  
 
The new venture is named in honor of the pioneering vaccine scientist Dr. Maurice Hilleman, who is credited with the development of more than 30 vaccines, including measles, mumps and hepatitis B, during a career that included nearly 30 years at Merck.  
 
The joint venture 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. The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the U.K., spending more than $865 million each year to support biomedical research.
 
Merck brings expertise in vaccine development in addition to experience working with a diverse range of stakeholders, including international organizations, governments, non-governmental organizations and philanthropic organizations to create innovative health solutions (for example, therapeutic interventions and vaccines for use in China, Nicaragua, Botswana and other countries), notes Merck spokeswoman Amy Rose, director of corporate communications.  
 
"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 of the Wellcome Trust. "The Hilleman Laboratories partnership brings together the requisite skills in a powerful way."
 
"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," says Richard T. Clark, chairman, president and CEO of Merck. "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."  
 
Merck and the Wellcome Trust will invest equally in the R&D joint venture, which will be primed with a combined cash contribution of approximately $130 million over the next seven years and will support a staff of approximately 60 researchers and developers. The venture will be based in India 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. India has developed extensive and growing research, development, academic and regulatory capabilities that make it an ideal location, Rose notes. Furthermore, basing the venture in India will also facilitate engagement and partnership with a broad range of developing country experts in vaccine research, policy and manufacturing.  
 
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 laboratories will also work with vaccine manufacturers to ensure production can be scaled and that the vaccines are affordable. Examples of the kind of programs being considered include developing vaccines that do not require refrigeration, and a vaccine against group A streptococci, which cause more than 500,000 deaths per year worldwide. In the first case, breakdown in the cold-chain supply is one of the main factors contributing to vaccine wastage. 
 
WHO estimates that up to 50 percent of vaccines are wasted globally every year. Improving the thermostability of vaccines could allow for millions more doses to be delivered to those who need them most each year.  
 
Dr. Altaf A.Lal has been appointed CEO of the Hilleman Laboratories. Lal 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. He is currently health attaché and Department of Health and Human Services regional representative for South Asia at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. Lal will soon begin to appoint his staff and identify premises in India, with the goal of being operational in 2010.  

 
Merck and QIAGEN ink $600 million cervical cancer vaccination and screening deal  
 
NEW YORK—Merck & Co. Inc. and QIAGEN NV announced Sept. 23 that they will collaborate on a new program to increase access to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and HPV DNA testing in some of the most resource-poor areas of the world. The companies said the partnership marks the first time a vaccine manufacturer and a molecular diagnostics company are collaborating to address the burden of cervical cancer with a comprehensive approach.  
 
The deal, worth an estimated $600 million, will integrate Merck's cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, and QIAGEN's HPV tests, the digene HC2 HPV DNA Test and a new HPV DNA test that is currently in development for use specifically in the developing world.
 
Merck will provide up to 5 million doses of Gardasil, and QIAGEN will add to its existing 1 million test donation program by providing HPV DNA tests to screen an additional 500,000 women. The companies plan to seek other public and private partners to design and implement national public sector cervical cancer programs, provide treatment as needed and support improvements in laboratory and vaccine delivery infrastructure, training of healthcare workers, education and advocacy. The companies will also work with cervical cancer experts to support the development and implementation of sustainable best practice models for cervical cancer reduction in low-income, high-disease burden countries.
 
Code: E100921

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