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Merck and Wellcome in landmark JV

US pharma firm Merck and the Wellcome trust have created the first not-for-profit R&D joint venture

Merck & Co and the Wellcome Trust have created MSD–Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories, a not-for-profit research and development joint venture (JV) aimed at developing affordable vaccines for diseases that commonly affect low-income countries.

The joint venture is the first time that a pharmaceutical company and research charity have joined forces to form a separate entity with equally shared funding and decision-making rights.

As well as developing new vaccines in areas of unmet need, MSD–Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories will also work on optimising existing vaccines, a task that both parties believe could not be achieved alone.

"Linking the ingenuity of academic research with the know-how of industry is vital if we are to produce a new generation of vaccines to reduce the burden of infectious diseases in low-income countries," said Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust. "The Hilleman Laboratories partnership brings together the requisite skills in a powerful way, and Merck is the ideal partner because of its impressive history of innovation and contributions to global health, which provide a perfect complement to the Wellcome Trust mission to improve health in the developing world."

"There is a critical need to develop new ways for scientific innovation to be translated effectively into new vaccines that can save lives and protect the health of people living in low-income countries," said Richard T Clark, Chairman, President and CEO, Merck & Co., Inc. "We believe that success in bringing forward these new vaccines can be best achieved through productive partnerships. The Wellcome Trust's strong track record in global public health and biomedical research combined with Merck's expertise in the development and delivery of vaccines positions the Hilleman Laboratories to make a real and sustained difference."

Merck and the Wellcome Trust will invest equally in the R&D joint venture, which will be primed with a combined cash contribution of £90m over the next seven years and will support a staff of around 60 researchers and developers.

The venture will be based in India. While an initial portfolio of projects will be selected only after consultation with the international community and careful technical assessment, examples of the kind of programmes being considered include developing vaccines that do not require refrigeration, and a vaccine against group A streptococci, which cause more than 500 000 deaths per year worldwide.

17th September 2009

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