IAVI, U.S. Biotech Firms, Indian Manufacturers Collaborate to Develop AIDS Vaccine
U.S. and Indian researchers are "embarking on a bold experiment" to determine if "reasonably priced AIDS vaccines" may be tested and manufactured in developing countries without violating patents from companies in developed nations, the Wall Street Journal reports. The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative is negotiating a deal to permit Serum Institute of India Ltd. to manufacture a vaccine using patented vaccine-making technology developed by U.S. biotech firm Therion Biologics Inc. "free of charge." At the same time, U.S. biotech company Chiron Corp. is "scouting" for an Indian partner to assist with the funding and development of an AIDS vaccine that is close to human trials. Chiron may contract a $30 million technology-transfer fee with either Shantha Biotechnology or Biological Events Ltd. to help fund Chiron's initial vaccine research costs.
Avoiding a 'Battle'
IAVI President Seth Berkley is hoping for an AIDS vaccine to be simultaneously introduced in rich and poor countries, an unprecedented move. "By investing in U.S. companies, and acting as a broker between them and developing-world companies, IAVI is trying to avoid some of the bruising battles over prices and patents that have enveloped AIDS-treatment drugs recently," the Wall Street Journal says. For India, working with the United States on AIDS research may help "boost" its goal of becoming a biotechnology power, and provide a way to stop a disease that has infected 3.7 million Indians. U.S. biotech companies' ability to combine research efforts with those in India is beneficial because vaccine research and production costs are lower, and the country is a "fertile ground" for human clinical trials, as the disease is rapidly spreading. However, researchers face a "sensitive political issue" with human testing in India, and there is no guarantee that the vaccines will work or be more effective than those produced by other firms.
The Wall Street Journal reports that "protecting a technology while spreading it isn't easy," as it can "leak out" to other manufacturers or be applied to make other vaccines. But Indian officials and vaccine makers are aiming to convince foreign companies that they can be trusted with the use of patented technologies, as long as the uses are restricted. South Africa is also seeking an intellectual property agreement with Chiron to grant it the right to make the vaccine for southern Africa. For firms that are hesitant to transfer technology for security concerns, IAVI has formed a "social venture capital" fund that invests research and development funds in three biotech companies, including Therion, and two academic institutions. Rather than asking for monetary returns, IAVI requires its partners to price the vaccine at a low cost for poorer countries while no limit is set on prices for richer countries. IAVI retains the right to solicit bids from other manufacturers in developing nations "to put teeth in the agreement" (Schoofs/Pearl, Wall Street Journal, 4/6).