With the announcement of grants to three British medical schools totalling £850,000, the pharmaceutical company Glaxo Wellcome (GW) has completed a unique three-way collaboration between government, industry and the academic world designed to carry out the basic research necessary to develop and produce new vaccines.
At the center of the collaboration is a new research institute, named after the vaccine pioneer Edward Jenner, which is located adjacent to the Institute of Animal Health in Compton, Berkshire. The three medical schools involved are at University College London, St George's Hospital, and the University of Glasgow.
GW has paid the £10 million costs of constructing and equipping the Jenner Institute. Half of the £6 million a year operating expenses, which include grants to outside research groups, are being provided by three government bodies: the Medical Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Department of Health. GW has made a commitment to provide £40 million to the program over ten years—an important component of the company's strategy to expand its presence in the vaccine market—and the government commitment is similarly long-term.
In a dedication ceremony for the new building last month, Peter Mandeslon, Britain's Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, described the "unique arrangement" of the institute as an "excellent example" of the type of partnership between government and industry that is needed to enhance Britain's economic competitiveness. "It is important that we build on the strengths of academia and government research to exploit the strengths of the UK science base," he said.
Michael Elves of GW, who chairs the institute's board of directors, says that the basic approach to vaccines currently in use "has hardly advanced since Jenner's day." Elves explained, "we felt that we needed an institution capable of carrying out pretty fundamental research to study the immune response. Then, once you have understood the immune response you need, you can work out how to get it."
Three specific diseases, caused by HIV, respiratory syncitial virus (RSV) and the meningitis/pneumonia group, have been selected as initial targets for vaccine development research "because they each have generic lessons to teach us," according to Peter Bentley, scientific director of the institute. He explained that RSV, for example, is a mucosal pathogen that requires a basic understanding of lung immunology, while the HIV work involves setting up a viral immunology team.
The institute has already recruited 40 researchers out of a desired 60, to work on a wide range of projects, including autoimmunity, viral immunology, immunological memory, the role of dendtritic cells, carbohydrate immunology, lung immunology, and the major histocompatability complex.
Although the institute will own intellectual property generated through the research program, GW will have the first option to license, develop and market any potential products. The institute would receive royalty income from any such product.
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Dickson, D. Research trio to develop new vaccines. Nat Med 4, 1349 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/3927