Rubella vaccines for the former USSR


17 January 2006

The Wistar Institute, an independent not-for-profit biomedical research centre based at the University of Pennsylvania, US, has licensed the seed stock for its rubella vaccine to Russian state-run company Microgen. 

The vaccine is credited with eradicating rubella in the US, but the disease presents a threat elsewhere, particularly in developing countries. Infection during early pregnancy can cause fetal death or congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), characterised by multiple defects, particularly to the brain, heart, eyes and ears. CRS is a significant cause of hearing, visual and cognitive impairment in countries where rubella is not controlled. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 100 000 cases of CRS occur each year in developing countries alone.   

Wistar's seed stock is a live attenuated rubella virus - the RA 27/3 strain - on which many rubella vaccines worldwide are based. 'Under the license agreement, Wistar, which retains ownership of the RA 27/3 seed stock, will send several vials of the seed stock to Microgen,' said Meryle Melnicoff, director of business development at Wistar. 'Microgen is responsible for growing the seed stock and making the vaccines.'

Wistar will receive only a license fee, and no royalties on sales. Over the past five years, Wistar has licensed the rubella seed stock to several companies in developing countries, usually private but with ties to government or public health groups, to produce vaccine locally.

Caring for CRS cases is costly because of the permanent disabilities caused by the condition. The WHO cites cost-benefit studies in developed as well as developing countries which reveal that, when combined with measles vaccine in countries with coverage of over 80 per cent, the benefits of rubella vaccination outweigh the costs.

The Wistar-Microgen agreement was established with help from the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich foundation (named after its founders, cellist Mstislav Rostroprovich, and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya). 'My foundation is determined to ensure that this vaccine becomes widely available in Russia and the Newly Independent States to end this cause of devastating birth defects,' said Rostropovich.  Bea Perks