Experts address prospects for lifesaving vaccines in developing world

July 27, 2006 by PATH

Ellen Cole, 206.285.3500,

Seattle, July 27, 2006—Visionaries in public health, scientific research, and private industry will convene this week to set their minds toward overcoming diseases that disproportionately afflict the world’s poorest countries. Sponsored by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, the Vaccines for Viral Infections conference will address the burden of rotavirus, cervical cancer, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, and influenza in developing countries, as well as the prospects for introducing vaccines to combat their spread.

A leader in innovative solutions and public health interventions, PATH will offer its unique expertise at the event. Representatives will be on hand from PATH programs that directly address access to vaccines against rotavirus, cervical cancer, and Japanese encephalitis.

From the scientific development of new vaccines to their introduction in developing countries, PATH has a wealth of experience at each point along the spectrum. On the ground, PATH’s Japanese encephalitis project is helping the Government of India introduce a safe and affordable vaccine against this childhood killer, which claims more than 10,000 lives in Southeast Asia each year and causes more viral neurological disability than any other disease in the region. Through essential collaborations, PATH was able to secure an affordable price for the vaccine, enabling its administration to more than 11 million Indian children this year alone. Julie Jacobson, MD, director of PATH’s Japanese encephalitis project will discuss vaccine introduction strategies at the conference.

PATH’s efforts at improving vaccine availability among vulnerable populations also presents opportunities to bring pharmaceutical manufacturers into the fold, through unique partnerships that pair private industry with public health. In collaboration with the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PATH’s rotavirus vaccine program is working closely with pharmaceutical manufacturers to conduct clinical trials of rotavirus vaccines in Africa and Asia, where 80% of rotavirus deaths occur. A leading cause of diarrheal disease, rotavirus is responsible for more than 600,000 deaths annually. New vaccines from Merck and GlaxoSmithKline are now being introduced in high- and middle-income countries, including the US and several in Europe and Latin America.

In the case of a vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer, PATH is helping plan for and pilot the vaccine’s introduction in India, Peru, Uganda, and Vietnam. Evidence gleaned from these experiences will prove valuable to other countries as they make informed decisions about introducing the vaccine and will also inform international financing plans. The HPV vaccine offers unique challenges such as working within fragile health care systems to reach young women, rather than traditional vaccine introduction efforts targeted toward infant and child populations. PATH has been working to prevent cervical cancer since the mid-1990s, when the organization first began researching the problem and raising global awareness. As the coordinating agency for the international Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention, PATH also worked to bring screening and treatment to low-resource settings in Kenya and Peru.

PATH recently established an initiative to spur rapid scientific development of new vaccines against childhood killers that will be effective and affordable in low-income countries. John Boslego, MD, who spearheaded development of vaccines against rotavirus and influenza, among other diseases, at Merck & Co, Inc., joined PATH earlier this year to direct these efforts, with a particular focus on vaccines against pneumococcal disease, the primary cause of death in children below age 5. Dr. Boslego will discuss steps toward rotavirus vaccine development at the conference.

“PATH is honored to be a part of the Vaccines for Viral Infections conference, and we look forward to sharing our experiences in vaccine access and scientific development,” said Christopher J. Elias, MD, MPH, president of PATH. “Advancements in vaccine technologies offer the best hope for preventing millions of needless deaths, and events such as this open doors to valuable partnerships that accelerate their availability among the world’s most vulnerable populations.”

In addition to the vaccine programs described above, PATH is also involved in influenza preparedness, another topic to be addressed at the conference. PATH activities in this arena include regional preparedness in Ukraine, as well as the development of technologies for mass immunization in the public-sector of developing countries in order to provide rapid injections without cross contamination. Dr. Kathy Neuzil, PATH’s senior clinical adviser for vaccines, serves as chair of the Infectious Disease Society of America’s Pandemic Influenza Task Force and also works with the CDC to develop recommendations for administration of influenza vaccine.

Dr. Boslego is scheduled to speak on Thursday, July 27, and Dr. Jacobson’s presentation is scheduled for Friday, July 28. Collaborators to PATH’s rotavirus vaccine program are also scheduled to present during the rotavirus session on July 27.

PATH is an international, nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions that enable communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health. By collaborating with diverse public- and private-sector partners, PATH helps provide appropriate health technologies and vital strategies that change the way people think and act.

PATH’s rotavirus vaccine program is funded by the GAVI Alliance. PATH’s Japanese encephalitis project and the vaccine development program are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.