Monday, January 24, 2011

New rotavirus vaccine to reduce cost to poor

A new version of the rotavirus vaccine is being developed that will help to reduce the cost to the poor. Vaccines need to be kept in cold-storage to prevent from spoiling which really makes shipping and distribution costs expensive. A partnership between Merck and Britain's Wellcome Trust is developing a new technology to do away with cold-storage. This new vaccine will even be available in oral strips. Rotavirus is one of the leading killers of children throughout the under-developed world.

From Reuters AlertNet, writer Kate Kelland describes the new technology.

Hilleman Laboratories, an India-based joint venture set up on a not-for-profit basis in 2009, said the vaccine will aim to protect against diarrhoea-causing rotavirus infections and will be based on thin strips or granules that dissolve in the mouth and can be easily transported, stored and administered.

Diarrhoea is one of the top two killers of children under five worldwide, and rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoeal disease in children. Each year, rotavirus-related diarrhoea kills more than 500,000 children and is the cause of many millions more needing hospital treatment.

Vaccines are often the best hope for tackling many diseases in poor countries, but in many cases they are either too expensive or unsuited to tropical conditions.

Currently available rotavirus shots, made by Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline , need to be kept in cold storage -- making their transportation and delivery complex and costly.

Akshay Goel, Hilleman's chief scientific officer, told Reuters in a telephone interview the researchers would be looking specifically at heat stability, ease of administration, package size and low cost as key features of the vaccine.

The team are also working with Medicine in Need (MEND), an international non-profit organisation which specialises in advanced drug and vaccine delivery technologies.

"Many first-generation vaccines have not been developed with the specific needs of countries with poor infrastructure for vaccine delivery in mind," said Altaf Lal, Hilleman's chief executive. He said Hilleman hoped to be ready with a product within four years which could then be manufactured by drugmakers and sold at an affordable price to developing countries.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 10 and 50 percent of vaccines may be wasted globally every year due to cold storage, shipping and other logistical problems.

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