Pharmaceutical charity – Merck donating $100M in vaccines

In response to White House urging, four big pharmaceutical companies are contributing $150 million in vaccines to help prevent meningitis, malaria, elephantiasis and polio among the world’s poorest children, the Associated Press reports.

Leaders of the four firms announced the effort March 2 at a White House meeting with President Clinton.

Merck & Co. made the largest contribution, totaling $100 million.

The other companies making donations are American Home Products, SmithKline Beecham and Aventis Pharma.

The four drug-makers also agreed to speed research and development on vaccines for HIV-AIDS and malaria, AP reports. Clinton has proposed a $1 billion tax credit over 10 years to foster development of such vaccines.

Over the next five years, Merck will vaccinate one-fifth of the vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa and  Southeast Asia against Hepatitis  B, which causes liver failure and cancer in millions.

The four companies also will pledge to increase their commitment to vaccine research, the Wall Street Journal reports, and all hope the effort soon will produce an AIDS vaccine.

The Journal also reports that the donations and the meeting Thursday with Clinton aim to boost the drug industry’s image in the face of Congressional debate over a proposed prescription drug benefit for Medicare that some industry leaders fear could result in controls over drug prices.

Helping to organize today’s meeting has been the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the newspaper says. The group has been supported by a $750 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“It takes governments, the marketplace and philanthropy to make sure that vaccines for diseases of the poor are rapidly developed and brought to market and to make sure they are available,” Patty Stonesifer, president of the Gates Foundation, told the Journal.

American Home is donating 10 million doses of Haemophilus influenza type-B vaccine, which prevents deadly meningitis and pneumonia.

SmithKline will conduct pediatric trials of its malaria vaccine, and Aventis will donate 50 million doses of its polio vaccine.

The Journal also reports that the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, a private group, is investing $10 million this year to triple — to six — the number of AIDS-vaccine candidates it is developing for developing countries.

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