Scientists at a lab in Hyderabad, India claim that they have developed the world’s first vaccine against Zika virus. In fact, they claim to have made two of them! This comes close on the heels of an announcement yesterday by a French company, Sanofi Pasteur, about the launch of vaccine research and development project to target the Zika virus.
The Zika virus outbreak continues to spread, with at least 28 countries/territories identified as having current outbreaks of the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was also reported by Dallas County Health and Human Services Department yesterday that the Zika virus has been sexually transmitted between two people in the U.S. The World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the disease a “global public emergency” on Monday. The agency called upon different governments and medical communities around the globe to help combat the spread of the disease.
Until yesterday, the announcement from Sanofi Pasteur seemed to be one of the few beacons of hope in the fight against this disease. Sanofi Pasteur, in the past, has been successful in creating vaccines for similar viruses – yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. The company claimed that their attempts and experience in creating a possible dengue fever vaccine will give them vital clues in developing the Zika vaccine.
“On Zika, we are probably the first vaccine company in the world to file a vaccine candidate patent about nine months ago,” said Dr. Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Biotech Ltd. As the world and global pharmaceutical and research companies are only beginning to search for a Zika vaccine, this announcement from Bharat Biotech International Limited, Hyderabad could possibly mean that an end to the problem is in sight.
The company used a live Zika virus that was officially imported and was successful in developing two candidate vaccines-a recombinant vaccine and an inactivated vaccine. However, conducting animal and human trials could be an uphill task. At this point of time, Dr. Ella sought the government’s support and reportedly the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has come forward to help.
“We have just been informed about the Zika vaccine candidate that Bharat Biotech has. We will examine it from the scientific point of view and see the feasibility of taking it forward. It is a good example of a Make in India product,” said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, pediatrician and Director General, ICMR.
“In the best case scenario, our company can make one million doses of the vaccine in four months. We have sought the direct intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that the vaccine’s development and delivery is fast-tracked, cutting through the red tape of regulatory clearances” remarked Dr. Ella and also pointed out that, “the vaccine can help countries such as Brazil, a fellow member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group.”
At a press conference on wednesday, Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director of the company announced that it could make available the inactivated vaccine in two years if the Indian Government fast-tracked the regulatory approvals once the pre-clinical trials proved to be successful. While the recombinant vaccine might take time, the pre-clinical testing of the inactivated vaccine in animals would be completed in five months.
Normally, the process for a vaccine to get commercialised would take seven years, including clinical trials. But Ella says, Zikavac vaccine could be made available if the Indian Government declares national emergency and moves aggressively in regulatory approvals.
Work on Zika vaccine project started in 2014, says Sumathy, Director of R &D at Bharat Biotech Director and the patent was filed in July 2015. She said that Zika fever was an unmet healthcare need in India and other countries and the potential for Zika virus epidemic was high.
Experts have lauded Bharat Biotech’s foresight in working on a vaccine so far ahead on a neglected disease that has now taken global epidemic proportions.