Wellcome Trust and Merck launch joint venture to develop affordable
vaccines for low-income countries
9 October 2009
UK medical charity The Wellcome Trust and pharmaceutical company
Merck & Co., Inc. have announced the creation of the MSD Wellcome Trust
Hilleman Laboratories, a first of its kind research and development
joint venture with a not-for-profit mission to focus on developing
affordable vaccines to prevent diseases that commonly affect low-income
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. Pairing two of the
world’s preeminent healthcare institutions provides an opportunity to
integrate the best of both to drive the investment and expertise needed
to develop and deliver vaccines to low-income countries.
The vision: a sustainable, not-for-profit operating model to
turn innovative science into practical solutions for those in greatest
The heart of this 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.
As well as developing new vaccines in areas of unmet need, the Hilleman
Laboratories will also work on optimizing existing vaccines, an
important and powerful way of increasing the impact of vaccination in
resource-limited settings. By working in partnership, the Wellcome Trust
and Merck seek to achieve what neither can do alone.
“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,” said
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
which provide a perfect complement to the Wellcome Trust mission to
improve health in the developing world."
“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.
"We believe that success in bringing forward these new vaccines can
be best achieved through productive partnerships. 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
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 GBP (approximately 130 million USD) 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.
The Hilleman Laboratories is designed to fill an important gap in how
vaccines get developed. 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. The Hilleman Laboratories will also work with vaccine
manufacturers to ensure production can be scaled and that the vaccines
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.
While an initial portfolio of projects will be selected only after
consultation with the international community and careful technical
assessment, examples of the kind of programs being considered include
developing vaccines that do not require refrigeration, and a vaccine
against Group A streptococci which causes more than 500,000 deaths per
Providing some of the key input to the Hilleman Laboratories will be
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.
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
Altaf A. Lal, Ph.D., has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of
the Hilleman Laboratories. Dr. 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. 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. His extensive experience in global public
health gives him the expertise needed to lead this new public-private
“If we are successful at building new partnerships and collaborations
with governments, other companies and NGOs, I am confident that we will
be successful in delivering vaccines to the people who need them.” said
Dr. Lal. “This is why I am making a firm commitment as CEO of this new
venture to proceed by working in concert with the global vaccine
community, obtaining feedback and input at every step.”
Dr. Lal will soon begin to appoint his staff and identify premises in
India with the goal of being operational in 2010.
Recognizing and extending the legacy of Dr Maurice Hilleman
The new entity is named in honour of the pioneering vaccine scientist
Maurice Hilleman, Ph.D. Dr. Hilleman 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.
"Maurice Hilleman was perhaps the single most influential public
heath figure of the 20th century when you consider the millions of lives
saved, and the countless people who were spared suffering because of his
work," said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director of National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health. "It is
only fitting that such a novel endeavor, which aims to develop
lifesaving vaccines for those in the developing countries, should be
named in his honor."
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