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India develops cheap rotavirus vaccine
An Indian vaccine against rotavirus — the leading cause of diarrhea-related deaths in most developing countries — promises cheap home-grown protection while adding to the global basket of rotavirus vaccines, an international team announced.

Severe diarrhea caused by rotavirus claims the lives of 453,000 under-five children worldwide each year. India tops the list, contributing to 22% of the deaths or an estimated 100,000-163,000 each year. Half of India's rotavirus-related diarrheal deaths are of less-than-a-year old infants.

The two internationally licensed oral rotavirus vaccines, GlaxoSmith Kline (GSK)'s Rotatrix and Merck's Rotatec, are priced at US$ 40 per dose, but provided at US$ 2 per dose in poor countries under an arrangement with the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (GAVI).

Scientists announced in New Delhi the results of third phase of clinical trials — involving 6,799 infants in three Indian states — of Rotavac, an oral vaccine based on a strain circulating in India and developed under an Indo-US partnership.

Rotavac reduced severe rotavirus-related diarrhoea cases by 56% in infants under-one year, with protection continuing into the second year, K Vijayargahavan, secretary, Department of Biotechnology, told an international symposium.

The new vaccine protected against a broad range of rotavirus strains and can be given to infants along with oral polio vaccine, Vijayaraghavan said. “Its efficacy is comparable to that of the two licensed vaccines (from GSK and Merck) in low-resource settings.”

A Hyderabad-based firm, Bharat Biotech, is ready to offer Rotavac at US$ 1 per dose and plans to file for licensing. 

Carsten Mantel, medical officer at the WHO, said India should address the need for strengthening cold-chain facilities for storage and transport if it plans to reach out to resource-poor settings at home and in other developing countries.

The symposium was buoyed by reports from Latin America and South Africa on reduced diarrheal cases and deaths as a result of rotavirus vaccination programmes.

Since introduction of vaccination in 2007, Mexico has averted 1,000 diarrhoea deaths, 190,000 diarrhoea cases and 5,250 hospital admissions annually, said Marcelino Esparza Aguilar, medical supervisor at the National Centre for Child and Adolescent Health, Mexico City.

Brazil, which introduced vaccination in 2006, saw 1,500 fewer deaths and 130,000 fewer hospitalizations in the two following years among under-five children.

South Africa has cut diarrhoea cases in the under-one year age group by half, Nicola Page, head of the enteric diseases unit at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, said.

“Countries such as Ethiopia have had to delay vaccination programmes due to limited supply,” Kathleen Neuzel from the non-government organization, Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, told SciDev.Net. “Now, we could potentially have another rotavirus vaccine in the market.”

Source: Science Development Network

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