Gates Foundation gives $38m grant to Takeda polio vaccine

Takeda Pharmaceuticals, the Japan-based drugmaker, will produce at least 50 million doses of inactivated polio vaccine a year 

Takeda Pharmaceuticals, the Japan-based drugmaker, is to get $38m from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop an affordable polio vaccine for use in developing countries.

The funding is part of a global push to eradicate the paralysing disease, in part by providing vaccines at low-cost to poorer countries.

The plan also requires countries to switch from using oral polio vaccine (OPV) to using inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) to eliminate the risk of polio resurfacing. But experts fear a global shortfall of IPV once it is included in every country’s vaccine schedule and have begun seeking new drugmakers able to produce it.

Under the terms of the grant, Takeda will produce at least 50 million doses of IPV a year at its facility in Hikari, Japan. These will be made available, cheaply, to more than 70 developing nations through the GAVI vaccine alliance, which is supported by the Gates Foundation. The alliance is a public-private partnership that funds immunisation campaigns in low-income countries.

In a statement, Chris Elias, president of global development at the foundation, said: “In 2016, the world is closer than ever to eradicating polio. To eradicate polio we need to ensure every last child is protected from the disease – this partnership will help to ensure that the world has enough vaccine to get the job done and maintain a polio-free world.”

As recently as 1988, polio was present in more than 125 countries, with 350,000 cases recorded worldwide each year. Just 12 cases have been recorded this year so far, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the world’s only remaining polio-endemic countries. Experts say stopping all transmission is possible by the end of this year.

If wiped out, polio will become only the second human-hosted virus to be eradicated since the end of smallpox in 1980.

Some 155 countries and territories in April and May switched to using the bivalent form of OPV, which targets the two remaining strains of poliovirus, in a vast global exercise. The vaccine no longer includes a weakened version of type 2 poliovirus, which was eradicated in 1999, removing the rare risk of the strain reappearing through so-called circulating vaccine-derived virus.

Photo credit: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation