Watch Out Big Pharma: PATH, WHO Show that Nonprofits Can Develop New Meningitis Vaccine

12/8/10Follow @xconomy

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if it could provoke an immune response. I didn’t gather from Elias how effective the vaccine truly is in protecting people who have been directly exposed to the meningitis A bacteria, and as far as I could gather, scientists don’t know how long the protective immunity may last. But the vaccine passed a key step last December when regulators in India approved the vaccine as safe for export. Another key hurdle came in July, when the WHO, through what is known as a pre-qualification process, essentially authorized it as fit for purchase by the United Nations, Elias says.

As big an undertaking as this has been, it’s no silver bullet for meningitis. As Elias says, this vaccine isn’t designed to protect against all four major strains. There are an estimated 450 million people considered at risk of infection, and it’s thought to cost $475 million to inoculate them all. There isn’t enough money for that, and it’s too logistically daunting to do all at once anyway. “It can’t happen all in one year, it will probably be over the next several years,” with the countries in most severe need getting the vaccine first, Elias says.

It will take more funding to carry on the business of delivering this vaccine to people who need it, and as Elias has often said, delivering new innovations to people who need them is often a serious stumbling block. So while the world is watching what PATH and the WHO are doing with meningitis, the work isn’t finished. Elias, in fact, is thinking it’s really just one example what he wants his organization do with a number of other vaccines.

“We think this is a model that should be replicated,” Elias says.

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