A look at the top-selling vaccines surely includes a preponderance of products developed by Quintiles though it’s hard to tell which ones.

It’s true that the Durham company is the largest pharmaceutical services provider taking drugs and vaccines through clinical trials – the company reported $3.7 billion in 2012 revenue from providing these services to pharmas. But even though the Durham company claims it developed 11 of the top 15 selling vaccine products in 2011, confidentiality agreements with the pharmas that market them prevent Quintiles from disclosing them.

That’s not the only thing Quintiles tight-lipped about. Since filing for an initial public stock offering in February, the company has been quiet because saying too much after an IPO filing could raise eyebrows of securities regulators. Even within those limitations, the company opened up to WRALTechWire about its vaccine business. Quintiles was named the world’s top clinical research organization in the Vaccine Industry Awards, the second year the company has won the honor.

Dr. Christopher Cabell, senior vice president of Quintiles Therapeutic Delivery Unit, says  that Quintiles’ growing strength in vaccine development comes from a renewed effort in the space.

“We’ve crystallized some areas where we want to focus our energy and vaccines is one of those areas,” he said.

Developing any pharmaceutical product is a long endeavor but vaccines present particular challenges above and beyond other therapeutics. Many of the new vaccines in development are for neglected diseases in the developing world or diseases that have a high, unmet medical need. That means CROs must recruit patients and run trials in remote areas.

While an oncology trial can recruit patients from a university cancer center in a well-populated area, a CRO might have to recruit for its vaccine trial from a far flung location in Brazil or Southeast Asia, Cabell said.

Vaccine trials are also typically larger trials that run at a different pace. A single oncology trial site might enroll one or two patients a year. A vaccine trial could require recruiting 15,000 patients in a month.

“Centers of Excellence”

Quintiles has stepped up its vaccine efforts within the last 12 to 18 months as the company has formed groups within the company that each have a particular therapeutic focus. A vaccines group is included in these 13 “centers of excellence.”

The group is virtual; its members are spread throughout Quintiles offices around the world. But given the nature of the diseases target by vaccine development, Quintiles’ offices in Africa, Asia and South America figure prominently in the vaccines group.

While the group is spread globally, Cabell said the coordination of resources along therapeutic areas keeps the work from getting lost. He adds that Quintiles geographic breadth is attractive to pharmas looking to target particular regions. If a pharma wants to test a tuberculosis vaccine in South Africa, Quintiles can align its resources to do that trial.

Quintiles’ global scale allows the company to conduct clinical trials around the world. It’s that size that is attractive to pharmas’ seeking strategic partnerships, the deeper and long-term arrangements that pharmas are increasingly striking with CROs as part of their effort to cut their own costs and share some of the financial risks that come with drug development.

But as popular as strategic partnerships have become in the CRO space, these arrangements haven’t played a large role in Quintiles’ vaccine work. Cabell said that most of Quintiles vaccine work is done with smaller companies. But Quintiles does have experience working with governments, non-governmental organizations and foundations, all prominent players in vaccine development.

“The interplay is complex,” Cabell said. “That makes it a whole different area.”

[QUINTILES ARCHIVE: Check out more than a decade of Quintiles stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire.]