Merck JV signs on Bangladeshi firms to speed low-cost cholera candidate

Hilleman Laboratories CEO Davinder Gill

When Merck's ($MRK) Indian JV, Hilleman Laboratories, teamed up in June with Swedish biotech Gotovax AB, the plan was to get an affordable cholera vaccine to the developing world. Just a few months out, it's inked a pact to make that happen faster.

Hilleman forged an agreement on Tuesday with Bangladesh-based Incepta Vaccine and the public health research organization ICDDR,B to speed the process of getting the Gotovax candidate through trials to licensing and commercialization.

ICDDR,B will offer up expertise related to the vaccine's clinical development, while Incepta will provide support in process development, scale-up and cGMP manufacturing for preclinical and clinical studies, Business Standard reports.

"Identifying like-minded partners within four months of attaining the worldwide rights to the vaccine candidate … has given a boost to our confidence in accelerating the process of optimizing the oral vaccine candidate and offer increased shelf life and reduce the projected gap in supply of cholera vaccine by the current manufacturers," Hilleman CEO Davinder Gill told the paper.

If this venture is successful, Hilleman--a venture between Merck and Wellcome Trust--could give Johnson and Johnson's ($JNJ) Crucell and Sanofi ($SNY) a run for their money. Crucell markets Dukoral, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, is too expensive for most developing countries, costing between $4 and $9 per dose. Sanofi's Shanchol is cheaper, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), at $1.85 per dose. But both vaccines require refrigeration, which can be tricky in the impoverished regions where cholera is most widespread.

PaxVax also has an oral candidate in the works, PXVX0200, which reported positive results in July in a pair of Phase III challenge studies. The FDA fast-tracked the candidate because there was no agency-approved cholera vaccine for travelers going to high-risk countries.

Gotovax's candidate, being a powder, can withstand heat up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) and should cost "significantly less than one U.S. dollar," Gill said, as quoted by the WSJ in June.

- read the Business Standard story

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