Luke Timmerman — writing for Xconomy — has put out an excellent interview/narrative piece, with the insights of PATH’s chief — Dr. Chris Elias — as to how this decade-long,
three four continents-wide MenAfriVac™ realization (you may still donate to the effort, from a link here!) was accomplished. Do go read it all — there is much here that the New York Times (good as it was) did not have the requisite column-inches-worth to cover:
. . . .”When we started this project, we knew the technical risks of developing a vaccine were actually pretty low,” Elias says. “It’s not like malaria, where we are still trying to break the code. . . .”
Suddenly, the economics of developing a vaccine singularly designed for meningitis A started looking more feasible for a nonprofit. . . .
Feasible as it may have been, the big vaccine makers weren’t interested. They would have to convert their facilities from using other carrier proteins for their other vaccines — which would be a difficult process. PATH’s Elias, never one to cast a stone against his industry partners, described this exchange diplomatically. “They were making reasonable business decisions on opportunity cost,” Elias says.
PATH and the WHO found a willing partner in the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of measles and diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus vaccines. The Serum Institute, founded in 1966 according to its website, makes half of the vaccines that UNICEF purchases, Elias says. “They make high-volume, high-quality vaccines. They are making basic vaccines for kids in poor countries,” Elias says.
So, true to form for PATH, partnerships were the key. It found one partner in the Netherlands — Synco Bio Partners — to make the essential polysaccharide ingredient for the meningitis A vaccine. The Serum Institute was asked to make the tetanus toxoid to make the vaccine more potent. Then the vaccine developers licensed a technology invented at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s labs in Bethesda, MD for conjugating vaccine components together. The story required lots of actors in Europe, India, and the U.S. . . .
Can you sense that this sort of noble purpose science is exciting to me? It is. And it is saving hundreds of thousands of lives, as vaccinations began in Mali and Niger (and surrounding countries) on Monday.