WASHINGTON, D.C., June 8, 2005 – The Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute, a leader in promoting the development and use of vaccines to prevent disease, today announced that it has received a grant of US$21.8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Sabin Vaccine Institute will use this grant—one of the largest awards ever in helminth infection research—to advance its Human Hookworm Vaccine Initiative (HHVI). Phase I safety trials of the human hookworm vaccine have started in the United States. Funding from the Gates Foundation will be used to ascertain the vaccine’s efficacy and safety in endemic areas of Brazil, and to support the manufacturing and quality control process and eventual industrial scale production of the vaccine in Brazil.
The announcement was made at The George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., a principal research site for HHVI and where the vaccine was developed by Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Microbiology and Tropical Medicine, and his team. HHVI research is also being conducted at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) and the Butantan Institute in Brazil, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia.
Human hookworm infection, which is most common in areas of rural poverty in the tropics and subtropics, is caused by parasitic worms that infiltrate the body in the larval stage by burrowing into the skin of the hands, arms, legs or feet, or through oral ingestion. Ultimately, the hookworms enter the gastrointestinal tract, fastening onto the inner layers of the small intestine. Using sharp, teeth-like projections, they extract blood. In fact, one thousand hookworms can simultaneously drain almost a cup of blood per day from an individual’s circulation.
This blood loss leads to iron deficiency, anemia and protein malnutrition. Children and women of reproductive age, who have the lowest iron stores, are at particular risk. Chronic hookworm disease contributes to growth retardation and intellectual and cognitive impairment in children. In pregnant women, it can result in adverse fetal outcomes. Current estimates place the incidence of hookworm infection at 740 million cases, with the highest prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa and eastern Asia, in addition to southern China, the Indian subcontinent and the Americas.
The Gates Foundation’s US$21.8 million grant continues a partnership with the Sabin Vaccine Institute on hookworm disease prevention that began in 2000 when it awarded an initial grant of US$18 million to HHVI. “The Gates Foundation again has demonstrated its commitment to achieving equity in global health, particularly among ‘the poorest of the poor,’ by awarding nearly US$40 million to HHVI,” said H.R. Shepherd, Chairman of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “Without the Gates Foundation’s support, we simply would not have the resources to develop a human hookworm vaccine.”
According to HHVI Chief Scientist, Dr. Peter Hotez, hookworm is a largely neglected disease because it is most prevalent among the world’s poorest individuals. “Hookworm disease is concentrated among the 2.7 billion people who live on less than $2 a day,” said Dr. Hotez. “So while hookworm’s impact is huge – three-quarters of a billion people – the low socioeconomic status of these victims translates into a potential commercial market that is small.”
The impact of hookworm disease is of even greater significance when measured in disability-adjusted life years. In fact, studies have shown that the global disease burden from hookworm exceeds all other major tropical infectious diseases, with the exception of malaria, leishmaniasis and lymphatic filariasis. “Hookworm’s association with impaired learning, increased absences from school and decreased future economic productivity translates into long-term disability and increases the likelihood that an afflicted population will remain mired in poverty,” said Dr. Hotez. “Therefore, if we succeed in preventing hookworm and other neglected, chronic infections among the rural poor, we will create positive health and economic outcomes.”
In addition to support from the Gates Foundation, HHVI received past funding from the National Institutes of Health, the March of Dimes and the China Medical Board of New York. For more information, visit www.sabin.org.
About the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute
The mission of the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) is to save lives by advancing new vaccine development and increasing global immunization. Founded in 1993, the Institute is dedicated to furthering the late Dr. Albert Sabin’s work and vision: the control and eradication of infectious diseases and cancer through vaccination. Sabin’s goals include: promoting advances in vaccine development, delivery and distribution; increasing public understanding of the need for vaccinations and research on new vaccines; building consensus within the private and public sectors on scientific and public policy issues concerning vaccination; and encouraging scientists and physicians to pursue careers in vaccine research and development. The Sabin Vaccine Institute, headquartered in New Canaan, Connecticut, is a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. To learn more about Sabin, visit www.sabin.org.