July 22, 2018

Research Roundup: Dangerous outbreaks, commercializing a low-cost biologics platform, and success against an infection that blinds

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Patrick McKern
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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
In the past year, outbreaks of high-fatality diseases and pathogens such as Ebola, MERS, Zika, Nipah virus, Lassa fever, and Rift Valley fever have caused at least 190 deaths and cost millions. While these outbreaks have remained relatively contained, health officials warn these diseases all have the potential to strike again and cause a global epidemic that could kill thousands, wreak economic havoc, and threaten global security the world over. According to experts, the lack of investment in research and development is contributing to this risk.
The technology company Univercells has raised over US $18.8 million in series B funding to support continued development of its platform to manufacture cost-efficient biologics. This comes on the heels of positive results from a pilot program of the company’s affordable vaccine manufacturing platform. The pilot, which tested production of the Sabin inactivated polio vaccine, showed the platform could delivers 43 million doses of the vaccine per year at a cost of US $0.15 per dose—considerably lower than current versions on the market. Univercells’ backers believe these two manufacturing platforms have incredible potential to make biologics and vaccines more affordable and accessible worldwide.
The World Health Organization declared in May that Nepal has eliminated trachoma as a public health problem. Trachoma, a bacterial infection that causes swollen and inverted eyelids, is the world’s leading cause of blindness with approximately 190 million people in 41 countries at risk worldwide. Nepal follows in the footsteps of Cambodia, Laos, Mexico, Morocco, Oman, and Ghana in a list of countries that have eliminated trachoma since a global campaign to eliminate the disease was launched twenty years ago. Annual administration of antibiotics in at-risk areas and improved hygiene practices have helped drive this progress.