Updated on 22 June 2012
The phase I clinical trials are being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has made several efforts to bring diseases such as kala azar into the spotlight. Recently, Mr Bill Gates announced a five-year $363-million commitment to support product and operational research for neglected tropical diseases (NTD) on behalf of the Foundation. He has also spearheaded a collaboration with 13 pharma giants and different governments to accelerate the progress in eliminating or controlling 10 NTDs by the end of the decade.
Chikungunya is also a vector-borne viral disease that is transmitted through mosquitoes, and does not have any specific treatment. According to WHO, chikungunya occurs in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and several outbreaks have been reported in recent past. The most was the one that occurred in 2006 in India. Several states, including Andaman and Nicobar Islands, were affected. Over 74,000 cases were reported in Tamil Nadu and Orissa alone.
Mr K V Balasubramaniam, managing director, Indian Immunologicals (IIL), says, "Currently, no vaccine is available for chikungunya anywhere in the world. Today, it is important to find innovative solutions to India-centric problems, and putting in efforts to prevent this important disease aligns well with the mission and vision of IIL."
Along the lines of the kala azar vaccine, IIL too joined hands with a US-based research organization for the development of the chikungunya vaccine. Dr Ramesh Mathur, general manager, R&D, IIL, explains, "CHIKV vaccine that IIL is developing is a live attenuated virus vaccine. The virus strain was isolated from a patient and later converted into an attenuated vaccine strain. This vaccine strain was purified, shown not to cause chikungunya disease, and determined to be suitable as a vaccine strain." He says it may take 12-16 months to submit an application to the regulators for clinical studies.
What makes the impact of the diseases such as chikungunya even more profound is the chronic disability caused in patients. Dr Ramesh Mathur elaborates how this justifies the need for the vaccine. "The quality of life post recovery from infection in the case of chkiungunya can deteriorate. The negative effect lasts for few years in severe cases. In this situation, in a country like India, where bread winners in the low income group get infected, it disrupts their normal life and creates huge financial burden. Value of the vaccine to the society in general is high compared to just the vaccine price. "