Gates Foundation promotes use of oral cholera vaccine

Long a financial supporter of the life sciences industry in the name of public health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is at it again, this time giving $5 million to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to promote use of oral cholera vaccine worldwide.

The Delivering Oral Vaccine Effectively (DOVE) program will offer technical assistance to relief agencies and governments on how to use oral cholera vaccine, evaluate current vaccine-use practices and develop new ways to track and control outbreaks of the disease. DOVE will also put together a cholera surveillance in the northern region of Cameroon, a hotspot for the disease located near Lake Chad. The money will help fund ways to detect outbreaks in hard-to-reach remote areas.

Cholera--an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera--has long plagued some developing countries. An estimated 3 million to 5 million cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths due to cholera occur each year. The cholera vaccine is generally considered an additional means to control the disease, but conventional control measures, such as providing clean water and sanitation, are preferable.

Crucell's Dukoral and Shantha Biotechnics' Shanchol have the oral cholera vaccine market cornered. Both are whole-cell killed vaccines, one with a recombinant B-sub unit and the other without. The World Health Organization prequalified the vaccines and 60 countries licensed them. The oral cholera vaccine--which is more than 70% effective--costs a mere $1.85 per dose. It's still not yet widely used to prevent outbreaks.

"We believe this grant will greatly facilitate the appropriate use of the new cholera vaccine," David Sack, director of DOVE and professor in the department of international health at the Bloomberg School, said in a statement. "In partnership with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other national and international agencies, we believe the DOVE project will provide the knowledge, technical assistance and encouragement to bring this life-saving vaccine to those who need it most."

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave $10 million to Seattle-based IDRI for formulating new and improved vaccine adjuvants, focusing predominantly on tuberculosis.

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