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ICMR to monitor Hyderabad firm’s work on anti-Zika vaccine

Hyderabad: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) today said it would closely monitor the proposal made by city-based Bharat Biotech for developing a vaccine for the Zika virus, which has emerged as a serious global health threat.

“Bharat Biotech has two proposals or ideas for development of a vaccine. One with an inactivated Zika virus and the other is a recombinant… It’s a proposal. They have done some early work. In the next few months, we will closely monitor and work with them and see the progress. At the moment, we do not have a vaccine candidate,” ICMR Director- General Soumya Swaminathan told reporters here.

Swaminathan is here to attend the ongoing 17th International Congress on Infectious Diseases.

When pointed out that it may take several years for the vaccine to come out, she said the process of developing a substance has to go through the regulatory steps, though the process can be expedited with various stakeholders joining the endeavour and in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode.

“I think now, because of the recognition that this is important and also the PPPs and various bodies agreeing to come together and work, I think if there is a promising vaccine lead, then we can get many different partners involved and take it forward more rapidly. Of course, it still has to go through the regulatory steps,” she said.

Medical experts are now suggesting the idea of ‘vaccine platforms’ to beat the delays, Swaminathan said.

“People are now talking about having platforms, create a vaccine platform. That’s one of the advantages Bharat Biotech had. He (the company) had already been working on a Chikungunya vaccine.

“Because, Zika virus is quite similar, if he is able to adopt that platform, I think doing more basic research on vaccine platforms is probably equally important. Of course, it takes time… But, I think the timelines are shrinking,” she said.

The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease, caused by mosquito bites, are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. There’s no vaccine or specific treatment for the infection, known as Zika fever.

The Delhi-based ICMR is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research.

Swaminathan said surveillance and testing of people is being done to deal with Zika at present, besides looking at the issue of developing a vaccine.

“For Zika, at the moment, what we are doing is surveillance. Making sure that we equip our labs to be able to test for Zika. We want to find out if there is any Zika circulating. So, we are testing people who present with fever, just like a dengue but a dengue negative. We have not found any case so far, but we will continue this exercise,” she said.

The ICMR hopes to get a live virus so that government labs can start working on it, she said.

“We want to develop our own diagnostics. For that, we are hoping we can get the live virus… So that our labs can start working on it. Third is, we will monitor the progress of this vaccine candidate that Bharat Biotech has. At any stage, if government support, help is needed to take it forward…” she added.