Five weeks from now the global health community will be celebrating another big and important milestone: a new vaccine against meningococcal A meningitis – MenAfriVac – will be distributed in three of the hyper-endemic countries of what is known of as the Meningitis Belt in Africa.
What is particularly notable about this achievement is not just that a new vaccine against a major child killer but that 10 years ago this vaccine did not exist, and it seemed quite unlikely that such a product would ever exist but thanks to a remarkable partnership, not only does this product exist but that it has been made affordable enough for widespread distribution.
When I was an undergraduate student in immunology at McGill, I remember a lecture from one of our professors on meningococcal A meningitis. Just a few years prior there had been a major epidemic of the disease throughout the meningitis belt and there had been a major epidemic wherein 5,000 people died and more than 250,000 had been sickened by the disease.
The kind of vaccine that is required to produce a good immune response in those most vulnerable to this disease – a conjugate vaccine – requires relatively sophisticated technology to produce and since this strain of the bacteria really only causes significant illness in the developing world the prospect of a new vaccine were not promising.
The following case study on the PATH website presents an interesting example of how a public-private partnership for new product development can be successful. I encourage you all to have a look. Celebrating these great milestones is what makes me so love what I do for a living.