Here’s a recipe for starting a vaccine revolution without breaking any eggs: take one Goliath in the health care industry with a disposable fast-tracking manufacturing method, and combine with a David-sized novel biotech company with a speedy way of growing cells.

Mix, bake, and wait one-half of the usual time to yield a vaccine.

Welcome to a new era in vaccine development, brought to you by GE Healthcare (aka Goliath) and Novavax (aka David).

These two partners think they’ve got a speedy way of making a pandemic flu vaccine.

The potential for this venture could significantly impact global public health. Health experts forecast that the world is overdue for an flu pandemic. Epidemiologists calculate that global epidemics hit three times in a century — when a new strain of flu emerges that humans have no immunity against.

This era, it’s the bird flu (H5N1 virus) that could cause the next epidemic. While the virus has not yet mutated into a form that easily passes between humans, 200 people have died from the virus since 203.

The companies’ press release for this project calculates that as many as 13 billion doses of vaccine could be needed during a pandemic — but the current global capacity is only 2.4 billion doses. Time, speed, and capacity expansion are critical to meet the potential global demand for vaccines. Thus, the potential impact for this venture could be huge.

Novavax is already working on several vaccines, as is in clinicals for the bird flu (H5N1) vaccine. Their proprietary approach, called “virus-like particle” (VLP) technology, can quickly produce the vaccine in a cell culture. This new method replaces the time-consuming old school method of making vaccines in chicken eggs and waiting, waiting, waiting for the vaccines to, um, hatch.

GE Healthcare will provide the virtual cell-culture medium for this process in the form of plastic disposable bags. This is far less expensive and more flexible (read: time-saving) than using the traditional hardware of steel tanks, tubing and filtration systems.

The companies believe that, together, they can cut vaccine development time in half — and save 60% of costs incurred through traditional vaccine manufacturing methods. The time saved would be 2.5 years — it usually takes 5 years to start up a production facility.

While GE has provided the traditional infrastructures for drug companies for many years, their new “ReadyToProcess” portfolio represents a new generation of bioprocessing devices that can increase efficiency in drug and vaccine manufacturing.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: This David-and-Goliath pairing is a marriage of unequals: GE Healthcare is a $17 billion publicly-traded company; Novavax has a market cap of $256 million and had revenues for the second quarter 2007 of a meager $200,000. But in the yin/yang world of marriages where opposites can attract, this match could lead to a revolution in vaccines. Furthermore, it moves GE Healthcare evermore closely to the therapeutic aspect of health. GE is King in diagnostics; marrying that business to other vertical and horizontal elements in health care (e.g., production and therapeutic expertise) will further assure GE’s health care dominance. This is clearly part of the company’s “Reimagining Healthcare” strategy expressed in the ad campaign on the right. If this venture brings more good things to life – and quality of life – I’m all for it.

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