The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has been awarded $30 million to coordinate efforts to bring lifesaving vaccines against pneumonia, meningitis and similar diseases to children in the world's poorest countries.
The four-year grant from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations and its financial arm, the Vaccine Fund, will speed the development and introduction of several vaccines against pneumococcal infections in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Those infections kill about 1 million children a year, according to the World Health Organization.
Orin Levine, executive director of the School of Public Health's new Pneumococcal Accelerated Development and Introduction Plan, said the goal is to reduce by 10 years or more the time it takes to make the vaccines readily available.
"The potential gain is that we shift that curve of use 10 to 15 years ahead, and that's a huge potential benefit," he said.
A pneumococcal vaccine was introduced in the United States in 2000, but no developing countries are using it, Levine said. New vaccines tailored to the pneumococcal strains prevalent in those countries are in the late stages of development and should be licensed by 2006 or 2007, he said.
In the past, it has taken years to bring some vaccines to the Third World, including one for Haemophilus influenza Type B, which can cause meningitis. It was introduced in the United States and other industrialized nations nearly 15 years ago, but fewer than 10 percent of children in the world's poorest countries are receiving it, Levine said.
"What we want to do is we want to reduce that interval," he said.
He said use of the new pneumococcal vaccines could save the lives of more than 2 million children from 2006 to 2020.
Jacques-Francois Martin, president of the Vaccine Fund, said the $30 million grant announced yesterday will be used in part to determine the "disease burden" of pneumococcal infections and to develop clinical trials to test the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. Better access to the vaccines will also be a priority.
"With newer vaccines like [that against] hepatitis B, it took about 16 to 17 years between the launch of the vaccine in the rich countries of the world and its use in the poor countries of the world," he said. "I would say that if we could make it possible to reduce to less than five years the time difference, we would have done a good job."
Levine's team won't wait until the new vaccines are ready to start their work, which initially will include determining how many cases of pneumonia and meningitis are caused by the pneumococcus bacterium.
"We're getting moving right now," he said.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations announced another $30 million grant to Seattle-based Program for Appropriate Technology in Health. That money will be used to develop and introduce vaccines against rotavirus, which can cause severe inflammation of the stomach and intestines with diarrhea, especially in infants.
The alliance consists of government agencies, health organizations, foundations and pharmaceutical companies. Its Vaccine Fund was established in 1999 with a $750 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.