Working with money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a team of experts from Seattle-based PATH and the World Health Organization were able to develop a new vaccine for meningitis that costs a mere 50 cents per jab. It took five years of clinical trials to gain an approval in June, but the new model for low-cost vaccine development is now delivering a product intended to protect tens of millions of West Africans threatened by the disease.
For Gates, the vaccine represents a fundamentally new approach to vaccine development. And you only have to compare the new meningitis vaccine to historic development efforts for new vaccines to combat polio, smallpox or the measles to see just how revolutionary this new approach is. "All those things were created because rich people got sick," Gates told the New York Times. "This is the first vaccine that went through the whole process where there was no rich world market, and it had to be optimized at a very low price."
"These product development efforts are very expensive," said the Gates Foundation's Doug Holtzman. "This one is a bargain. For less than $100 million, a vaccine was developed from scratch and licensed, though the technological path had already been marked before." So far, though, only $95 million of the projected $570 million needed to undertake the campaigns has been raised. And with the world economy still suffering from a downturn, raising the rest won't be easy.