Merck & Co and the Wellcome Trust have announced plans to work on a rotavirus vaccine "designed specifically with developing country needs in mind".

Through the MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories joint venture, set up last September and based in India, the two partners say their first project will be a feasibility study into how new technologies might be used to develop a rotavirus vaccine. Specifically, formulations based on "dissolving thin strips or granules will be examined for their potential to improve product stability, ease of use, transportation and affordability".

This project has been selected because of "the tremendous global impact of rotavirus diarrhoea on childhood mortality", Merck and the Trust say. If the initial study is successful, options to further develop the technology for rotavirus "and other oral vaccines of importance to developing country health will be explored".

The study involves a  collaboration with Medicine in Need (MEND), an international not-for-profit organisation which is providing the formulation technology. Merck Sharp and Dohme will contribute components of its existing rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq.

Altaf Lal, chief executive at Hilleman, noted that many first-generation vaccines "have not been developed with the specific needs of countries with poor infrastructure for vaccine delivery in mind". He  added that the project will tackle "one of the greatest public health and logistics challenges in the developing world - distributing life-saving vaccines without the requirement for large bulk shipments, expensive warehousing and costly, difficult-to-maintain refrigerated shipping paths from the manufacturing plant to the patient".

The World Health Organisation estimates that, annually, between 10%-50% of vaccines may be wasted globally because of temperature control, shipping and other logistical issues.