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June 25, 2008

Gates-Supported Foundation Backs Worldwide HPV Vaccination

Vaccination funding by an international partnership said on Wednesday that it would expand its scope beyond vaccinations for children in poor countries and start investing in vaccines aimed at adult women.

The board of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) endorsed in Geneva a new $3.5 billion vaccine investment plan specifying diseases it will tackle from 2009 to 2020.

The GAVI is backed by the Gates Foundation.

GAVI Executive Secretary Julian Lob-Levyt said the strategy would attack some of the world's major killers and offer a new challenge to provide good health to the world's most vulnerable people.

Among the seven priority investments approved by the board were a vaccine to immunize women against the human papilloma virus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer, and one to prevent miscarriages or birth defects caused by rubella virus.

Merck & Co and GlaxoSmithKline have both recently introduced rival HPV vaccines, called Gardasil and Cervarix, that are seen by industry analysts as multi-billion-dollar sellers but are expensive for developing countries.

According to a draft on GAVI's new spending strategy, vaccines are prioritized to protect children in impoverished nations against cholera, typhoid, rabies, meningitis A and Japanese encephalitis.

"The portfolio ... has the potential to avert approximately 2 million deaths across different age groups and all GAVI countries within 10 years," according to the Geneva-based group, which supports immunizations in more than 70 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

GAVI's report to the board, whose members include the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank and vaccine makers, said with HPV and rubella vaccines, GAVI would have an opportunity to protect vulnerable women against a serious and fatal disease and congenital anomalies of their newborns.

Nearly 2.5 million child deaths a year are thought to be prevented by vaccination programs GAVI already supports for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles.

Such campaigns, as well as those for hepatitis B, yellow fever, pneumococcal disease and rotavirus, will continue alongside the new investments.

GAVI is a private-public partnership launched in 2000. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave it $1.5 billion, are major backers, along with governments including Britain, France, Norway, South Africa and Brazil.

Pharmaceutical companies like Crucell, Novartis, Sanofi Pasteur and Wyeth are among the major vaccine makers that GAVI supports through market commitments and other programs.

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