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Vaccine Giants to Pledge Third-World Offensive


WASHINGTON — The four biggest vaccine makers will announce today at the White House that they are donating millions of doses of their products and stepping up research to cure diseases that plague African countries and other developing nations.

The announcement reflects a growing realization by governments, public health doctors, medical researchers, foundations and pharmaceutical company heads in industrialized countries that the "neglected diseases" of the Third World pose a threat to continued global economic development.

"There is a global crisis around the big, killer diseases: pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV and malaria," said Dr. Richard Feachem, director of the Institute for Global Health at UC San Francisco and a participant in the effort. "We have a major problem in that incentives are not in place for the pharmaceutical industry to invest in finding cures."

President Clinton, in his new budget, is proposing a tax credit to encourage drug companies to find vaccines for these diseases. He is also proposing steep increases for federal research through the National Institutes of Health and a $50-million U.S. contribution to a global fund for distributing vaccines to poor countries. In Congress, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has introduced legislation calling for a broader package of incentives to drug companies.

"We can really have a big wallop here," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's leading AIDS researcher, said of today's White House meeting. "It's something that's actually happening, not talk. This initiative has not only galvanized the drug companies, but foundations and other organizations."

The donations and commitments from the drug industry include:

* A million doses of hepatitis B vaccine, worth $100 million, by Merck. The company will also commit to developing AIDS vaccines for strains of the virus found in poor countries.

* Ten million doses of influenza type B vaccine by American Home Products. The vaccines should provide protection for more than 3 million children.

* Fifty million doses of polio vaccine by Aventis Pasteur. The donation will support an effort to eradicate polio in five African countries that have been engulfed in civil wars.

* A commitment by SmithKline Beecham to expand its malaria vaccine program and begin vaccine trials for children in the African nation of Gambia later this year.

Although the pharmaceutical industry is among the most consistently profitable, the vast bulk of its research goes into finding treatments for diseases and conditions that afflict the developed world, such as cancer or high cholesterol. The infectious diseases that are the main killers in the Third World get much less attention.

Indeed, less than 10% of all public and private research funding goes to addressing the primary health problems that affect 90% of the world's population.

Clinton's combination of tax credits for private research and funding for international organizations to buy and distribute vaccines is a strategy aimed at developing both new products and a market for them.

"The tax credit is an incentive to go in and do the research," Fauci said. "No matter how wealthy a drug company is, this is important to them."

Under Clinton's budget proposal, the government would match every dollar of vaccine sold by a manufacturer to international health organizations with a dollar of tax reduction. Vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS would be eligible.

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