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Indian biotech ‘claims’ to develop Zika vaccine: intrigues virologists worldwide

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Zika virus

By KS Jayaraman

Bengaluru: Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech claims to make a “breakthrough” in developing two “candidate vaccines” against the deadly Zika virus, which has already aroused a global emergency, alarming many virologists.

The vaccines are said to be a “made in India” product.

Krishna Ella, managing director of Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, announced last week that his company is probably the first in the world to file a “global patent” for its vaccines against the virus that is suspected to cause birth defects and neurological problems and is terrorizing Brazil and other countries in South America. The company said it started work on the vaccines a year ago using “live” Zika virus. But, despite repeated requests from reporters, neither Ella nor the company’s spokesperson revealed from where or when the company got this virus.

“It is a serious question,” said Kalyan Banerjee, a renowned virologist and former director of the National Institute of Virology in Pune, a premier laboratory under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

“Normally one should not import any exotic virus into the country under any pretext,” Banerjee told reporters in an email. “Only the government of India’s biotechnology board or a similar body is authorized to give permission to import after ascertaining all aspects of the virus.”

“It is amazing how the said laboratory obtained the live virus, particularly when there is no record of isolation of Zika virus from the Indian subcontinent,” Banerjee said.

The Zika virus is spread by the Aedes Aegypti species of mosquitoes that are abundant in India.

“Regarding the company getting the virus and making a vaccine, it needs to be carefully investigated,” Banerjee said, pointing out that “loopholes in the import of pathogenic agents may lead to national disaster”.

He said strict vigilance was one of the main reasons why the yellow fever virus – which is also spread by Aedes mosquitoes and causes a fatal disease – never came to India.

Durga Rao, another leading virologist at the Indian Institute of Science here, agrees.

One can import a virus from any source with approval from ICMR or the department of biotechnology, “but an unauthorized introduction of a virus which is not reported yet in India by anyone could be a serious regulatory problem as it can get into the environment easily under our unsupervised facilities”, Rao said in an email.

But inquiries reveal that the vaccine maker failed to follow the standard procedure for importing the live Zika virus whose potential threat to newborns forced the World Health Organization on February 1 to declare a global emergency.

“We did not import the virus and Bharat (Biotech) got it themselves,” ICMR director general Soumya Swaminathan told reporters in an email to a query if the company sought its permission to import.

“There are safety concerns with Zika virus vaccine — so all steps in regulatory approval need to be followed,” she said.

Asked if the DBT gave the permission, its secretary K Vijayraghavan – instead of an emphatic yes or no – said that the question “is best addressed to the industry concerned”. In an email, he said the DBT is committed to working with ICMR and the health Ministry to ensure preparedness.

Apart from its reluctance to reveal the source of the virus used to develop the vaccines, the company has declined to give details about the global patent it claims to have filed in July 2015.

A search of the Indian Patent Office website for Bharat Biotech’s patent applications, or the company’s own website, does not show any specific filing for the Zika virus. One patent expert told reporters that “it is possible that the patent office hasn’t yet published this patent application”.

Some scientists are impressed – and at the same time intrigued – by the Indian company’s foresight in trying to develop a vaccine for a disease that was not yet there.

According to a report in the journal Science, “less than a year ago, Zika seemed too trivial for anyone to bother developing countermeasures”, and Brazil reported its first case (microcephaly) of Zika virus only in May 2015.

“But Bharat Biotech says it started work on the vaccine as early as in 2014 and filed for patents for two vaccines in July 2015 itself,” said one medical researcher who did not want to be named. “This defies credibility.”

But Bharat Biotech has dismissed this argument saying the company was already developing vaccines for chikungunya and dengue and it was natural to work also on a vaccine for Zika virus which too is spread by the same species of mosquito.

Although the Indian company has an early start in vaccine development, bringing the vaccine to the market will be years away, experts say. There is no monkey model yet to enable comparisons of candidate vaccines and human trials have to be done in endemic countries like Brazil, not in India. (IANS)

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Experts Say Measles Victims Dropped Below 100,000 in 2016

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Measles Victims Dropped
Foriza Begum, background, a newly arrived Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar, reacts to her daughter Nosmin Fatima's scream as she receives a vaccination to prevent measles and rubella at a makeshift medical center in Teknaf, Bangladesh. VOA
  • Latest reports of WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the rate of deaths from measles has dropped.
  • As per experts, a number of people who died from measles in 2016 were about 90,000, compared to 550,000 in 2000.

The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the rate of deaths from measles has dropped 84 percent since the beginning of a global vaccination campaign in 2000.

Experts say the number of people who died from the disease in 2016 was about 90,000, compared to more than 550,000 deaths in 2000. This marks the first time that worldwide measles deaths have fallen to less than 100,000 per year.

Robert Linkins, of the Measles and Rubella Initiative at the CDC, said in a statement that “saving an average of 1.3 million lives per year through vaccine is an incredible achievement and makes a world free of measles seem possible, even probable, in our lifetime.”

Since 2000, some 5.5 billion doses of measles vaccine have been administered to children through routine immunization services and mass vaccination campaigns. The disease is contagious through air particles and can spread quickly. The disease kills more people every year than any other vaccine-preventable disease.

But the WHO says the world is still far from reaching regional measles elimination goals. Since 2009, officials have managed to deliver a first dose of the vaccine to 85 percent of the babies who need it, but there has been no improvement in that rate in eight years. And only 64 percent of the affected population has gotten the second dose, which comes when a child is four or five years old.

The WHO says “far too many children” — about 20.8 million — have not had their first vaccine dose. Most of those children live in Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The disease puts children at risk of developing complications such as pneumonia, diarrhea, encephalitis, and blindness.(VOA)

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Do You Know Which is the Unhealthiest Country in the World?

Are you living in the most unhealthy country in the world?

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Unhealthiest country in the world
Did you think you were living in one of the world's healthiest country? Think again! VOA

Geneva, September 28, 2017 : Do you know which is the unhealthiest country in the world? If you think it is some region from the African continent, you are mistaken.

According to a new study by Clinic Compare, the Czech Republic has been recognized as the unhealthiest country in the world.

Drawing upon data gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO), CIA World Factbook and the World Lung Association, 179 countries around the world were assessed on three key factors,

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Tobacco consumption
  • Prevalence of obesity

The study thus revealed the most unhealthy country in the world – Czech Republic, and highlighted the need for citizens to change their lifestyle in order to combat life-threatening illnesses and maintain and enjoy a healthy life.

ALSO READ Live Healthy Lifestyle with these Diet Hacks

World’s most unhealthy countries

 

1. Czech Republic
2. Russia
3. Slovenia
4. Belarus
5. Slovakia
6. Hungary
7. Croatia
8. Poland
9. Luxembourg
10. Lithuania and the United States

 

As per the examination, the residents of Czech Republic positioned as the world’s greatest liquor consumers, with every individual expending 13.7 liters of liquor for each annum (around 1.5 shots per day). They additionally ranked eleventh on the list of the highest tobacco customers.

This comes as a surprise as poverty-stricken countries of Africa were instead found to be among the healthiest countries in the world.

According to the research, Eastern Europe emerged as the unhealthiest region in the world, occupying nine out of the best 10 top spots in the list.

41 per cent of the population in Samoa was further revealed to have a BMI over 30, making Oceania the world’s fattest region. Also included in the top 10 list of the fattest regions were Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati.

Healthiest Country in the World

The findings revealed that the healthiest country was Afghanistan with merely 2.7 per cent of the population having a BMI over 30. This places the country on the world’s second lowest rate of obesity.

It was further revealed that the citizens of Afghanistan consume the least recorded quantity of alcohol and smoke 83 cigarettes a year. This can be largely attributed to the nation’s laws that forbid the possession and consumption of alcohol.

The research placed Guinea as the second healthiest country, closely followed by Niger and Nepal.

ALSO READ WHO says Millions of People are Dying Pre-mature Deaths Due to Non-Communicable Diseases

World’s healthiest countries

 

1. Afghanistan

2. Guinea

3. Niger

4. Nepal

5. DR Congo

6. Eritrea

7. Malawi

8. Somalia

9. Mozambique

10. Ethiopia

 

Eight Countries from Africa made it to the list of the healthiest countries in the world, which comes as a pleasant surprise for all.

According to a WHO report released in mid-September, it was revealed that non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardio-vascular diseases are an increasing cause of premature deaths all around the world, taking as many as 30 million lives annually.

These diseases cause self-inflicted damage and trace their roots to individual lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol consumption, drugs and unhealthy or unbalanced diet.

The new findings put greater pressure on the countries that have made it to the list of unhealthy countries, thereby urging them to undertake stronger measures.

 

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Anti-dengue Antibody Drug May Neutralize Zika Virus

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Zika
Test for Zika more than once during pregnancy: Study

Washington, Sep 26: An anti-dengue antibody-based drug could potentially protect a mother and her foetus from the deadly Zika virus as well, suggests new research.

In experiments with mice, the researchers found that an antibody that protects against dengue virus is also effective against Zika.

“We found that this antibody not only neutralises the dengue virus but, in mice, protects both adults and foetuses from Zika disease,” said Michael Diamond, Professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and senior author of the study published in the journal Nature Immunology.

Antibodies remain in the bloodstream for weeks, so one or a few doses of an antibody-based drug given over the course of a woman’s pregnancy potentially could protect her foetus from Zika, with the added benefit of protecting her from both Zika and dengue disease, the researchers said.

Dengue causes high fever, severe headaches, and joint and muscle pain in children and adults but does not directly harm foetuses.

Since dengue and Zika are related viruses, the researchers reasoned that an antibody that prevents dengue disease may do the same for Zika.

In collaboration with Gavin Screaton of Imperial College London, who had generated a panel of human anti-dengue antibodies years before, the scientists infected nonpregnant adult mice with Zika virus and then administered one of the anti-dengue antibodies one, three or five days after infection.

For comparison, another group of mice was infected with Zika virus and then given a placebo.

Within three weeks of infection, more than 80 per cent of the untreated mice had died, whereas all of the mice that received the anti-dengue antibody within three days of infection were still alive, and 40 per cent of those that received the antibody five days after infection survived.

To find out whether the antibody also could protect foetuses from infection, the researchers infected female mice on the sixth day of their pregnancies with Zika virus and then administered a dose of antibody or a placebo one or three days later.

On the 13th day of gestation, the amount of Zika’s genetic material were significantly lower in the placentas and in the foetal heads from the pregnant mice that were treated one day after infection, compared with mice that received the placebo.

However, administering the antibody three days after infection was less effective, the findings showed.

These findings suggest that for the antibody to effectively protect foetuses from Zika infection, it must be administered soon after infection.

Such a goal may be unrealistic clinically because women rarely know when they get infected.

However, giving women the antibody as soon as they know they are pregnant could provide them with a ready-made defence against the virus should they encounter it.

“We mutated the antibody so that it could not cause antibody enhancement of dengue infection, and it was still protective,” said Diamond.

“So now we have a version of the antibody that would be therapeutic against both viruses and safe for use in a dengue-endemic area because it is unable to worsen disease,” Diamond added.(IANS)