The founding director of the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) has received the 2012 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Award for his pivotal role in developing a new vaccine that could eliminate devastating meningitis A epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Sabin Vaccine Institute presented its highest scientific honor to Dr. F. Marc LaForce for his leadership of MVP’s successful effort to develop the revolutionary vaccine called MenAfriVac™. LaForce will be honored at a ceremony May 7 held in conjunction with the annual conference of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases in Baltimore, Maryland.
By 2016, it is expected that 320 million people in 25 African countries will have received MenAfriVac™ to protect them from deadly meningitis A. The vaccine was developed by MVP, a partnership between PATH and the World Health Organization (WHO) that is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
As director of MVP from 2001 to 2012, LaForce led the successful development, licensure, and introduction of MenAfriVac™, the first vaccine designed specifically for Africa. He helped bring together dozens of collaborators, including African country governments, Indian and African research sites, scientists, and manufacturers, across four continents to develop the vaccine at a price African health ministers said they could afford—less than US$0.50 a dose. LaForce retired from PATH earlier this year.
Meningitis A, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, is one of Africa’s most dreaded infectious diseases. Annual epidemics of meningitis A sweep across sub-Saharan Africa, killing ten percent of patients and leaving up to 20 percent of survivors with lifelong disabilities, including deafness and mental retardation.
MenAfriVac™ has the potential to prevent 1 million cases of illness and save 150,000 lives and up to $300 million in medical costs over the next decade. More than 54 million Africans between the ages of 1 and 29 have received the vaccine in six African countries since its introduction in 2010. Not a single case of group A meningococcal meningitis has been reported among those vaccinated.
Each year since 1994, the Sabin Vaccine Institute has awarded its prestigious Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Award to a scientist who has made extraordinary contributions in the field of vaccinology. It commemorates the legacy of Dr. Sabin, who developed the oral live virus polio vaccine that is widely heralded with contributing to the near elimination of polio worldwide.