Univercells nets $12M Gates Foundation grant for low-cost vaccine manufacturing platform

The Gates Foundation grants Univercells $12 million to develop a low-cost vaccine manufacturing platform.

As the international community continues to expand vaccine access in developing countries, one requirement is that they must be affordable. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just shelled out $12 million on a vaccine manufacturing platform to meet that need.

The recipient of the grant, Univercells, will collaborate with Natrix and Batavia to develop a vaccine manufacturing platform that aims to dramatically lower costs. Belgium-based Univercells has up its sleeve a manufacturing technology that intensifies each step of manufacturing and integrates them into a continuous process, and thus reduces costs, according to the company.

Natrix and Batavia will respectively contribute to the partnership a single-use chromatography membrane platform and vaccine development and manufacturing capabilities.

The consortium will, at the beginning, establish a small facility for production of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) with a capability of 40 million doses per year at a manufacturing cost of less than $0.15 each. And the platform can later be applied to any viral vaccine with similar simplification in scales and operations, according to Univercells.

Nigeria was recently removed from the list of polio-endemic countries monitored by the World Health Organization, leaving only two countries—Afghanistan and Pakistan—on that list. The United Nations Children’s Fund, together with other partners, is currently working on developing a polio vaccine stockpile to support the post-eradication period.

According to procurement information published by UNICEF, the agency—which procures IPV for more than 80 countries—is currently buying a single-dose of IPV at the price of $2.8, while a ten-dose presentation supplied by Sanofi Pasteur is being bought for as low as $0.75 per dose. Earlier this year, the agency issued a supply alert (PDF), warning that the number of IPV doses could fall short about 60 million short in 2016. Technical difficulties in scaling up production were cited as the cause.

This is not the first time Univercells has received funding for utilization of its cost-efficient platform. The company closed a €3 million ($3.3 million) equity investment from Takeda last October to apply its low-cost platform to vaccines in Takeda’s pipeline. At that time, Merck’s Indian JV, Hilleman Labs, was also looking for potential companies and government agencies to collaboration on a 300 crore rupee ($46 million) project to develop affordable vaccines for rotavirus, cholera and meningitis.

WHO estimates that immunization averts two to three million deaths annually, but an additional 1.5 million could still be avoided once global vaccination coverage has further improved, and that calls for wider coverage and more new vaccine introduction in low- or middle-income territories. To ensure accessibility, lower costs—including that for manufacturing and distributing—are a must. UNICEF, for example, just recently halved the price of pentavalent vaccine with 6 major manufacturers.