Gates drives vaccine maker agenda

Bill Gates's ambitious vaccine distribution plans are a $10 billion vaccine industry carrot. That's how much the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed for R&D on the development and delivery of vaccines over the next ten years.

"We must make this the decade of vaccines," says Gates in his annual foundation letter. Vaccines represent the foundation's biggest investment area: more than $800 million every year. "Melinda and I see our foundation's key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded." Among them: The rapid scale-up of immunization programs, and ensuring both a steady vaccine market and an adequate supply from manufacturers.

The goal of distributing vaccines in remote, environmentally harsh, infrastructure-poor regions suggests two solutions: "You can either change the manufacturing methodology so that the drug does not need to be refrigerated, though this may be a challenge, or perhaps you can manufacture closer to the market," says Jon Lieber, chief financial officer at disposable systems maker Xcellerex, via email. Disposable manufacturing technology may prove instrumental for the latter.

The foundation has already launched an advance market commitment program in which donors have put up $1.5 billion. Gates writes in the letter that he expects manufacturers will commit to building factories much earlier than they would otherwise to get a piece of the pie.

He also notes that thanks to recent vaccine efforts, polio is down to fewer than 3,000 cases a year-a 99 percent reduction in 20 years. "When we increased our investment in polio two years ago, we viewed it as a challenging delivery problem rather than something requiring a new tool, because the oral vaccine worked quite well. Most of our funding has supported innovative approaches to delivery."

- here's the letter
- read the announcement

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