Suddenly, it seems everyone is raring to make vaccines for diseases that have been forever festering among India’s poorest. Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech has just submitted the results from the final human trials for a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis to the drug controller general of India (DCGI) for marketing clearance. They have, however, been narrowly pipped by Biological E, another Hyderabad company that will make its version of the vaccine available this year. Another similar vaccine by Panacea Biotech is in the development stage.
Take a look at leishmaniasis or dengue. There are at least two vaccines in advanced stages of trials pioneered by international development efforts. There’s never been a better cause of optimism that finally there is a real possibility that these diseases that afflict large numbers in India and several tropical countries may finally be overcome.
Last week, however, came the disappointing news that a large phase-3 trial promising a new vaccine for tuberculosis, or TB, didn’t do as well as researchers expected. Scientists said the vaccine being tested wasn’t any more protective in babies than the extant BCG vaccine is in adults. While there’s considerable reason for pessimism that all of the nearly 12, potential TB vaccines that are in various preliminary stages of research might fail, it could actually be an excellent learning opportunity for India.
All these diseases have been the focus of intense research over decades in Indian labs and yet there’s been little to show for it. The complexity of these pathogens notwithstanding, it is also because too little money was invested in following up on potential molecules and the stifling laws in India that prevented such molecules from being part of preliminary, or the so-called phase-1 clinical trials. This has greatly set back India’s drug and vaccine development efforts.
While massive donor organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are now opening purse strings for such diseases, India ought to considerably train its focus towards developing drug development in a big way.
One never knows when money might dry up for such research and if India doesn’t pool its bit and develop a skilled workforce with such drug development capabilities, all of the prevalent enthusiasm could go to naught.
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