GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) have joined forces in a $1.8m project that will focus on development of thermostable vaccines to help overcome a long-standing barrier to vaccine access in developing countries.
The company said most vaccines must be kept cold and transported in refrigerated conditions called the ‘cold chain’ in order to prevent them degrading and becoming useless.
Under the project, GSK researchers will focus on how to make adjuvants, agents used in vaccines to boost an immune response, more heat stable, reducing the need for refrigeration.
The project is part of a wider programme called the Vaccine Discovery Partnership (VxDP) instigated by BMGF, aimed at bringing together biotechnology institutions, drugs companies, NGOs and academia, to quicken advances in vaccine research and development (R&D).
GSK senior vice-president of vaccine discovery and development Emmanuel Hanon said the aim of the partnership is to develop a thermostable adjuvant.
"This partnership is the starting point for research into an exciting area of biomedical technology that has the potential to overcome a significant and long-standing barrier to vaccine access in developing countries," Hanon said.
The project will initially focus on the development of adjuvant AS01, which is used in GSK’s promising late stage RTS,S malaria vaccine, and also for other vaccines GSK is developing for HIV and tuberculosis.
Mosquirix (RTS,S) is currently in late-stage development in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, is administered through intramuscular route.
It has been designed for prevention of plasmodium falciparum malaria in newborns and children from sub-Saharan Africa, where maintaining vaccines at an optimum temperature can be challenging.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation president of global health Trevor Mundel said the partnership with GSK will help drive research and development efforts to overcome persistent global health challenges.
"Reducing the dependence on the cold chain is critical to the affordable delivery of life-saving vaccines to the children who need them most," Mundel said.
It is estimated that more than 22 million children in developing nations do not have access to vaccines and reducing dependence on the cold chain may likely contribute to effective and affordable delivery of vaccines globally.
Recent trials of RTS,S vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa almost reduced the number of malaria cases by 50% in children aged 5-17 months.
GSK’s RTS,S will be submitted for regulatory approval in 2014, and could save many of the 600,000 children that die of malaria in Africa every year.
The drugmaker is currently in discussions with the foundation to explore other research avenues that are relevant to global health under VxDP.
Image: Under the partnership with BMGF, GSK researchers will focus on developing adjuvants that more heat stable. Photo: courtesy of Maxwell Hamilton.