Vaccine experts have long lamented a development system that overlooks diseases prevalent in poor countries while prioritizing lucrative projects. Now, Merck KGaA’s MilliporeSigma and Baylor College of Medicine are teaming up to fight diseases that pose a serious threat but aren’t attracting much research attention.
The two have joined together in a vaccine collaboration against neglected and emerging diseases. Initially, they’ll target schistosomiasis, the world’s second deadliest parasitic disease behind malaria, according to the CDC. In addition to developing immunizations, the partners will work on manufacturing improvements and explore how best to deliver vaccines efficiently where they’re needed.
Merck KGaA’s life sciences group operates as MilliporeSigma in the U.S. Through the new collaboration, the pharma company’s process development and formulation experts will work with academics at the university on manufacturing processes to boost stability and yield.
The collaboration is an “ideal partnership to advance vaccine development and manufacturing,” MilliporeSigma CEO Udit Batra said in a statement.
According to Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, schistosomiasis is “one of the world's most devastating neglected tropical diseases, affecting hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people.”
After recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika, it’s just the kind of research partnership vaccine experts have endorsed. High R&D costs and unpredictable outbreaks have led many in the field to call for a shared-risk approach to emerging and neglected disease vaccine development.
Ebola and Zika demonstrated that reactive research is far from ideal, while a deadly MERS outbreak back in 2015 left scientists frustrated that a vaccine hadn’t yet been developed against the virus.
In response, many governments, pharma companies and nonprofits joined together earlier this year to form the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness. The global organization seeks to pool resources and work on vaccines against known and future outbreak threats. It has support from drugmakers such as GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Takeda.
Still, the launch of Sanofi’s Dengvaxia may have drugmakers thinking twice about which vaccine projects to support. The company recorded just €1 million in sales for the shot last quarter after spending $1.5 billion and 20 years developing the dengue fever vaccine.