Glaxo Proposes Biopreparedness Unit for Outbreaks Like Zika

  • Drugmaker in ‘advanced discussions’ on biopreparedness unit
  • Glaxo can provide facility, technology but needs commitments

As the Zika virus spreads and concern grows about the world’s preparedness for outbreaks, GlaxoSmithKline Plc is proposing the creation of a unit dedicated to developing vaccines for diseases in markets offering little potential profit.

The London-based company is ready to provide a facility, staff and technology, and would welcome funding from the U.S., the U.K., the World Health Organization and other public entities, Ripley Ballou, Glaxo’s vice president of vaccines, said in a phone interview.

While big pharma can make a profit from some vaccines such as seasonal flu shots, there’s little financial incentive for conditions like Zika or Ebola that affect mostly developing nations, unless governments and public agencies guarantee they will stockpile the products.

“We’re in advanced discussions,” Ballou said. “GSK has now lived through Ebola and Zika, and we really feel that there needs to be a radical rethinking of vaccine development for this kind of target that has no commercial incentive but has epidemic potential. There is no mechanism today in government, academia and industry to do this.”

Glaxo is working to develop a vaccine for Zika, though testing on humans won’t start until next year at the earliest. The proposed biopreparedness unit would work on dangerous pathogens even before an outbreak, according to Ballou, tackling diseases such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which has now spread beyond the Arabian peninsula.

The drugmaker also is in talks with an international group, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, founded in 2016 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Economic Forum, Wellcome Trust and the governments of Norway and India. The coalition seeks to finance the development of new vaccines, and could be a backer for Glaxo’s biopreparedness unit.

In the U.S., lawmakers are also contemplating the creation of a sort of Federal Emergency Management Agency for public health, to quickly give the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding and power in future crises. The creation of a $300 million Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund is now part of a House bill and could become law after the November elections.

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