The Wellcome Trust and Merck announced the creation of the MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories (www.hillemanlaboratories.in), described as “the first of its kind research and development joint venture with a not-for-profit mission to focus on developing affordable vaccines to prevent diseases that commonly affect low-income countries.” The joint venture “marks the first time a research charity and a pharmaceutical company have partnered to form a separate entity with equally shared funding and decision-making rights. Pairing two of the world’s preeminent healthcare institutions provides an opportunity to integrate the best of both to drive the investment and expertise needed to develop and deliver vaccines to low-income countries.”
The organizations described the vision as “a sustainable, not-for-profit operating model to turn innovative science into practical solutions for those in greatest need.”
The new Hilleman Laboratories “will also work on optimizing existing vaccines, an important and powerful way of increasing the impact of vaccination in resource-limited settings. By working in partnership, the Wellcome Trust and Merck seek to achieve what neither can do alone.”
Merck and the Wellcome Trust will invest equally in the R&D joint venture, which will be primed with a combined cash contribution of 90 million GBP (approximately US$130 million) over the next seven years, and will support a staff of approximately 60 researchers and developers. The venture will be based in India to facilitate engagement and partnership with a broad range of experts in vaccine research, policy and manufacturing to develop and mature its R&D pipeline. The Hilleman Laboratories will work to advance projects to ‘proof of concept’ by providing key expertise in product development and optimization that is typically available only within large vaccine companies. The Hilleman Laboratories will also work with vaccine manufacturers to ensure production can be scaled and that the vaccines are affordable. Through this model, the Hilleman Laboratories “will help deliver vaccines to registration that are specifically designed to meet the needs and practical realities in developing countries.”
Altaf A. Lal, Ph.D., was named CEO of the Hilleman Laboratories. Dr. Lal spent 20 years working for the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was the Chief of the Molecular Vaccine Section in the Division of Parasitic Diseases. Dr. Lal is currently Health Attaché and Department of Health and Human Services Regional Representative for South Asia at the Embassy of the United States of America, New Delhi, India. His extensive experience in global public health gives him the expertise needed to lead this new public-private research partnership.