Making A $0.50 Per Dose Meningitis A Conjugate Vaccine (Vs. $50-$80 Per Dose: Novartis/Sanofi)

This morning, Celia W. Dugger, writing for The New York Times — has an excellent story on the Bill-Gates-funded Meningitis Vaccine Project intitiative. About a decade ago, Gates’ charity gave $70 million to pursue a conjugate vaccine against bacterial, and viral meningitis — in sub-Sarahan Africa.

This is a market in which no western pharma concern could possibly ever hope to make a profit — as (for whatever reason) “western” meningitis A vaccines sell for between $50 and $80 per dose.

Africa can barely afford one one-hundredth of that, on a per dose basis. Yet each year, perhaps 250,000 Africans die from one or more strains of meningitis, borne on the dry winds which sweep across that vast desert. This is the story of how — working creatively, in multi-national teams, and with donations from private industry — the problem has been solved. And at $0.50 per vaccine dose. This is, simply, the most noble end of all science: ending human suffering.

To start at the end, as it were — here is a 90 second YouTube video of the manufacturing process, at the Serum Institute of India (a MVP partner) — as our final product, Men A conjugate vaccine leaves the plant, bound for Africa. Yes, help is on the way:

And, as we learn from the Times’ reporting, here is where the story starts — do go read it all:

. . . .For over a century, epidemics of bacterial meningitis have swept across Africa, arriving with the dry harmattan winds to kill with terrifying speed. But on Monday, a drive starts to inoculate tens of millions of West Africans with a new vaccine in what scientists hope will be the beginning of the end of ravaging meningitis epidemics.

The aim is for these immunization campaigns to spread from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, bringing the disease under control and saving an estimated 150,000 lives by 2015 in a belt of 25 nations that girds the continent.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are still needed to accomplish that goal, public health officials say. But the meningitis vaccine itself is a milestone in developing inexpensive vaccines against neglected diseases that afflict poor countries. . . .

So far, donors and African countries have raised $95 million of the estimated $570 million cost of eliminating meningitis epidemics across Africa, W.H.O. officials say. But the global financial crisis has pinched foreign aid spending, leaving the remainder in doubt.

“I’m extremely worried,” Mr. Gates said. “You have one of the simplest, most effective interventions ever invented being limited by how much money you have, rather than country demand or regulatory problems. . . .”

Indeed — do go read it all. And big pharma should certainly “kick in, and ante up” here, again. This sort of endeavor ennobles us all.


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