GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) have formed a joint initiative to make vaccines more resistant to heat, thus reducing the need for refrigeration. GSK and BMGF will invest a combined $1.8 million in early stage research into vaccine thermostability.
Most vaccines must be kept cold and transported under constant refrigeration via a “cold chain,” which is a significant challenge in hot, remote and resource-limited regions.
In the first project of the Vaccine Discovery Partnership (VxDP), GSK researchers will explore how to make adjuvants—a critical component of some vaccines—more heat stable.
"Developing a thermostable adjuvant is an important and ambitious goal. This partnership is the starting point for research into an area of biomedical technology that has the potential to overcome a significant and long-standing barrier to vaccine access in developing countries," said Emmanuel Hanon, senior vice president, vaccine discovery and development, GSK.
This project will focus initially on the adjuvant AS01, which is used in GSK's RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate, currently in late-stage development in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. RTS,S has been designed for use in infants and children from sub-Saharan Africa, where maintaining vaccines at an optimum temperature can be challenging. Developing a method of making AS01 more heat stable could bring a significant public health benefit. The results could also have broader applications for all other AS01-containing vaccines, including vaccines in development by GSK against HIV and tuberculosis.
"Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools to save and improve lives, and this partnership with GSK will help drive research and development efforts to overcome persistent global health challenges," said Trevor Mundel, president of global health at the BMGF. "Reducing the dependence on the cold chain is critical to the affordable delivery of life-saving vaccines to the children who need them most."
Despite significant progress over the last decade, over 22 million children in developing nations remain without access to life-saving vaccines. Reducing dependence on the cold chain is a key approach to support the effective and affordable delivery of vaccines for global health.
The VxDP, instigated by the BMGF, aims to integrate key players in vaccine development—biotechnology institutions, pharmaceutical companies, non-government organizations (NGOs) and academia—to drive advances in vaccine R&D that have the potential to transform global health. Projects funded through the VxDP will look to solve some of the world's most intractable health problems, including barriers to vaccine access.