LONDON - U.S. drugs group Merck & Co has teamed up with Britain's Wellcome Trust medical charity in a not-for-profit joint venture to develop affordable vaccines for poor countries.

The partners said on Thursday they would invest equally in the research and development project, which will be primed with a combined cash contribution of 90 million pounds ($148 million) over seven years.

The venture is the latest effort to demonstrate good citizenship by the global pharmaceutical industry, which has been criticised for not doing enough to ensure people in Africa and other poorer regions have adequate access to medicine.

Hilleman Laboratories -- named after scientist Maurice Hilleman who worked at Merck and developed more than 30 vaccines -- will be based in India with a staff of 60.

It will focus on fields relevant to low-income countries, such as the production of heat-stable vaccines that do not require refrigeration and the development of a vaccine against Group A streptococci. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler, Editing by Lin Noueihed)