As the world searches for a vaccine and other global companies take first steps on research, an Indian pharmaceutical firm, Bharat Biotech International Limited in Hyderabad, says it has patented the vaccine against the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has infected millions of people in Latin America and has the potential to spread worldwide.
Scientists at the Hyderabad lab claim they have in fact developed two of the Zika vaccine, which is now in pre-clinical testing as the firm prepares to test it on animals.
Dr Krishna Ella, Head of the Biotech International Limited, the company based in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh’s capital Hyderabad, said at a news conference that it has already filed for a patent for 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.
Ella said the firm has sought the Indian government’s help for carrying out human and animal trials for the two candidate vaccines, which have been developed by its scientists, using a live Zika virus, and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has stepped forward to help.
Using a live Zika virus imported officially, Bharat Biotech started working on a Zika vaccine in November, 2014, ahead of every pharmaceutical company in the world. The current Zika outbreak is thought to have begun in Brazil in April, 2015.
The virus drew the Hyderabad-based firm’s attention because the clinical features of early-stage of Zika infection are indistinguishable from those of dengue and chikungunya, two mosquito-borne infections that are prevalent in India.
Dr Ella said in a best case scenario his company can make one million doses of the vaccine in four months. He has sought the direct intervention of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that the vaccine’s development and delivery is fast-tracked, cutting through the red tape of regulatory clearances, pointing out that the vaccine can help countries such as Brazil, a fellow member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group, and pave way for what he called “vaccine diplomacy.”
In a statement, he said,
The Prime Minister should take up this project as it helps communities like Brazil and Colombia where we can do vaccine diplomacy. We are a part of the BRICS group and we have to help them. We would love to help. We want global public health to benefit.
Ella, who has a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founded Bharat Biotech in 1997 after he returned to India from the US.
The World Health Organisation had earlier this week declared the Zika virus ‘a global public health emergency requiring a united response.’ More than 20 countries in Latin America have reported an outbreak and a rare case of the Zika virus being transmitted through sex has been reported in Texas, USA.
Zika doesn’t cause much harm to adults. Most infected individuals are symptomless, and those who experience a bout of fever or red rash often recover within a few days. What has raised alarm is its link to the serious neurological birth defects known as microcephaly, in which babies are born with tiny brains.