GSK, Sanofi join Gates Foundation vaccine R&D initiative

Vaccine manufacturers are often criticized for investing in shots aimed at high-margin Western markets, while neglecting diseases affecting the developing world. This week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation set up a project to spur development in neglected areas by cutting the financial risk of early research.

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Sanofi ($SNY) are the first companies to sign up to the project, called the Vaccine Discovery Partnership (VxDP). Under VxDP, the Gates Foundation will work directly with biopharma companies on projects that further its goals and span from preclinical through to Phase IIa. By providing financial support for the projects, the Gates Foundation hopes to make early-phase vaccine research a less risky proposition for the industry.

Once at proof-of-concept stage, when the risks lessen and costs escalate, other funding mechanisms will come on board. Novartis' ($NVS) developing world-focused vaccine unit has a similar research strategy. The Gates Foundation wants to work with more biopharma companies through VxDP, but for now it has projects with GSK and Sanofi. Details of the Sanofi collaboration are hazy--with the release only talking of new platforms and methods to accelerate R&D--but the GSK project is more clearly defined.

GSK is working to make its immune response-boosting adjuvants more heat stable. "Developing a thermostable adjuvant is an important and ambitious goal…that has the potential to overcome a significant and long-standing barrier to vaccine access in developing countries," GSK vaccine SVP Emmanuel Hanon said. Development of an adjuvant that can withstand higher temperatures is one step towards ending the need to transport vaccines in a cold chain, a requirement that limits distribution in rural areas of the developing world.

- check out FierceBiotech's take
- here's GSK's release
- read the Gates Foundation statement