April 10, 2009

New oral cholera vaccine holds promise

New Delhi, April 10: A new low-cost oral vaccine against cholera, whose production technology has been transferred to India, could soon be made available to the people in the country’s endemic areas to help them gain immunity against the disease, which kills about 120,000 people globally every year.
“After 38 years of drought in cholera vaccination and cholera outbreaks not abating, it is very heartening to know that there is an affordable orally administered vaccine available now,” health ministry advisor N.K. Ganguly said Friday. He was participating in a policymakers’ meeting here Friday on the “Introduction of cholera vaccination using new-generation oral cholera vaccines in India”.

The vaccine, after trials and evaluation on a sample size of 70,000 people in Kolkata “has been found to provide over 60 percent protection and no decline in protection over two years”, John D. Clemens, director general of the Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute (IVI), said at a press conference after the meeting.

Half of those in the sample size were given the new vaccine while the others were given placebos.
The IVI, which developed the vaccine, Feb 24 transferred its production technology to Hyderabad’s Shanta Biotech after the Drugs Controller General of India licensed this. “It is a simple vaccine that can be delivered orally through a syringe. It is well adapted and cost effective as on bulk production, its cost comes down to a dollar per dose,” Clemens pointed out.
“It has been found to be effective in all age groups,” he added.

According to Health Secretary V.M. Katoch, the policymakers’ meeting was a “scientific open forum which debated the various aspects of vaccine and recommended that the health ministry first introduce it in a guided manner in cholera endemic areas of West Bengal and Orissa. “Based on the experience gained, it could be expanded to other areas,” Katoch, who also heads the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), added.

He also pointed out that the vaccine would be recommended as a supplement to conventional tools like safe drinking water and sanitation in the battle against cholera and not its replacement to prevent cholera.

Describing the vaccine as “very innovative”, Ganguly, a former ICMR chief, said it incorporated all the important genes required to make it very selective and more effective without harming the intestines in any way.“It is designed to prevent even severe infections caused by various mutants of the cholera virus,” he added.

According to Clemens, the new vaccine meets international good manufacture practiced and the standards set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).And, with the new vaccine having global applications, India could become one of its four to five manufacturing hubs, Clemens pointed out. Representatives of ICMR, the health ministry, the Department of Biotechnology, the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases and IVI attended the policymakers’ meeting.

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