Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates is putting his financial muscle behind a campaign to get life-saving Cervical cancer vaccines to women in poor countries.
Two rival vaccines targeting the Human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes the disease, are expected to be launched in the next year or two by Merck & Co Inc and GlaxoSmithKline Plc.
But it is unclear how the novel shots will be funded in the developing world, where most deaths from Cervical cancer occur.
In a bid to speed their development and introduction, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had been granted $7 million by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Gates charity has donated a further $5.9 million to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Harvard University and the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health.
The money will be used to support various preparatory projects, rather than full-scale vaccination programs.
In the case of the WHO, the cash will be used to develop standards and guidelines for future vaccine schemes. The other groups will work on developing private sector partnerships and studying the epidemiology of HPV and Cervical cancer.
Merck’s product Gardasil is expected to be first to market but GSK’s Cervarix is not far behind, and industry analysts expect both vaccines to become multi billion-dollar sellers.
While both target HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, they vary in the number of strains they attack and the way the vaccine is manufactured.
Cervical cancer kills a quarter of a million women each year, most of them in the developing world.
Jean Stephenne, president of GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, the vaccines unit of GSK, said on Tuesday he applauded the Gates Foundation’s involvement.
“The work which will be done by the WHO and other recipients of these grants will help in overcoming some of these challenges and accomplishing the goal of getting this vaccine to all women no matter where they live,” he said.
Developing countries are a potentially important market for vaccine manufacturers, which are expected to offer preferential prices for the poor if they can secure large orders and financial backing from governments or charities.
GSK is working with MedImmune on its vaccine while Merck is partnering Gardasil in Europe with Sanofi-Aventis.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD