Serum of India’s Meningitis Drug Cleared for Warm Storage

A meningitis vaccine developed by billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla’s Serum Institute of India Ltd. remains effective at high temperatures, allowing it to be used in locations that lack refrigeration, researchers said.

The MenAfriVac vaccine can be stored for as long as four days at as much as 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), Godwin Enwere, an official of one of the study’s sponsors, said today at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene’s annual meeting in Atlanta. Until now, the drug was required to be kept at 2 degrees to 8 degrees C before use.

The revised guidelines for the Serum injection may reduce costs by eliminating the need for refrigerated transport, Enwere, medical director of the World Health Organization’s Meningitis Vaccine Project partnership, said in an interview. That would give more people access to the vaccine, particularly those in remote areas of Africa, he said.

Since 1988, more than 1 million people in Africa have been infected by the disease, which causes mental retardation and permanent deafness and can be fatal within hours if untreated, according to the Geneva-based WHO. MenAfriVac has been on the market since 2010 as a preventive measure against meningococcal A, the main cause of bacterial meningitis in Africa and Asia. Indian and Canadian regulators have cleared the drug for higher-temperature storage, Enwere said.

The approval “opens a huge avenue for the use of the vaccine in very harsh conditions,” Enwere said. “It potentially encourages the review of other vaccines to be kept at room temperature.”

A team of researchers from the WHO, Seattle-based Program for Appropriate Technologies in Health, Serum and Canada’s health department reviewed data on the stability of the vaccine without refrigeration. The study of 600 vials of MenAfriVac found the drug can remain effective for as long as two weeks when stored at 25 degrees C, Enwere said.

Later this month, Benin will become the 10th country to introduce the vaccine, which costs 50 cents a dose and was developed with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. An estimated 100 million people in African countries including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana and Mali, will receive the drug by the end of this year, according to the Meningitis Vaccine Project statement.

“Today’s announcement marks a new milestone,” Orin Levine, director of vaccine delivery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a statement. “It allows us to extend the delivery of the MenAfriVac vaccine from the traditional cold chain and reach more people across Africa.”

Poonawalla, who founded Serum in 1966, had $3.3 billion in assets, making him India’s 17th richest person, Forbes magazine said in October. Closely held Serum owns 27.8 percent of New Delhi-based Panacea Biotec Ltd., the world’s biggest maker of polio vaccines, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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