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Wednesday, February 3, 2016, 16:03

Indian firm develops world's 1st Zika vaccine

By Agencies

Indian firm develops world's 1st Zika vaccine

NEW DELHI - An Indian pharmaceutical firm claimed on Wednesday to have developed the world's first vaccine against mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Biotech International Limited, the company, based in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh's capital Hyderabad, said 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," Dr. Krishna Ella, head of the pharma firm, told the media.

The firm has sought the Indian government 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.

Also on Wednesday, Indian biotechnology company Bharat Biotech said it was working on two possible vaccines to fight the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil.

The virus is spreading rapidly in the Americas, and WHO officials on Tuesday expressed concern that it could hit Africa and Asia as well.

One of the possible vaccines is "recombinant", which means it is created by genetic engineering, while the other was "inactivated", and will enter pre-clinical trials in animals in two weeks, Bharat Biotech managing director Krishna Ella told Reuters.

An inactivated vaccine is created by killing a pathogen in a way that its ability to replicate is destroyed, but the immune system can still recognise it.

Bharat Biotech's announcement came a day after France's Sanofi said it had launched a project to develop a Zika vaccine. On Wednesday, Japanese drugmaker Takeda Pharmaceutical also said it was investigating the possibilities of developing a vaccine for the disease.

Privately held Bharat Biotech, based in the southern town of Hyderabad, said it started work on the Zika virus a year ago, while developing vaccines for chikungunya and dengue. Zika is closely related to dengue and is spread by the same species of mosquito.

Bharat Biotech sells its vaccines for polio, hepatitis B, H1N1 and rabies, among others, to more than 65 countries, according to its website.

"They've got a lead, essentially ... it's certainly not a vaccine yet," said Soumya Swaminathan, the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body for biomedical research in India, funded by the health ministry.

Swaminathan said it was premature to comment on the two vaccine candidates, but the ICMR had put together a group of experts to examine their validity.

No cases of the virus have been detected in India yet, but the health ministry on Tuesday issued guidelines on the disease, including an advisory that travel to affected countries be postponed or cancelled.

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