PATH paying FDA for work on a pneumococcal disease vaccine

A nonprofit organization is paying the Food and Drug Administration to help develop a better vaccine against pneumococcal disease in poor countries, The New York Times reported Feb. 1.

In the last decade, such vaccines have sharply decreased hospitalizations for the disease in the United States. The bacteria, Streptococcus pneumoniae, can cause fatal infections of the ear, lungs, blood and brain; worldwide, it kills almost 1 million children a year.

The FDA announced Feb. 1 that its laboratories would perform one important step in building the vaccine and be paid $480,000 by PATH, a nonprofit group in Seattle that develops technological solutions to third-world problems. (Much of its financing comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)

While it unusual for a government agency to be paid by a charity, the work is being done under a law that lets federal laboratories speed outside research in some cases.

Pneumococcal vaccines are complicated because the bacteria include more than 90 strains, which vary by region. A chain of sugars from the surface of each targeted strain must be linked to a carrier protein; the FDA will make sure that the link is done correctly.

Ultimately, the plan is for the vaccine to be manufactured by the China National Biotec Group, which makes 80 percent of China’s vaccines, and the hope is that the World Health Organization will approve it.