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Bharat’s rotavirus vaccine hits the shelves

Following India’s success in its research against the Zika virus, recent development in other areas of health has put the country at the forefront of vaccine research. Bharat biotech is now part of an exclusive club of companies that provides preventive treatment dealing with the rotavirus.

Although cases in India have been constantly decreasing since 2001 from 2.5 million to 1.5 million in 2012, diarrhoea is still responsible for 13 percent of deaths in children under 5 years of age and remains a major public health issue. The new medicine known as “Rotavac” has been recently approved by the Indian government and will be used in states such as Odisha, followed by Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Rotavirus is an extremely contagious organism causing inflammation of the intestinal inner wall lining. This inflammation prevents and limits the body from absorbing nutrients leading to diarrhoea or vomiting. Current methods to reduce the inflammation itself are yet to be proved and thus treatments remain symptomatic. They generally consist of an oral hydration liquid with a salt solution, usually zinc.

Vaccines exist and have proven to significantly reduce infection rate initially. Indeed, most countries in the world are already using these vaccines, including many countries poorer than India.

The development of a new vaccine has been presented as a major breakthrough for the country because two non-Indian companies dominate the global market. There is “Rotateq” from Merck, and “Rotarix” from Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK). Some previous attempts to market rotavirus vaccines have resulted in failure, most notably “RotaShield” in the US made by Wyeth Laboratories which had to be withdrawn in 1999, due to high cases of intestinal obstruction.

Bharat biotech seems to have the upper hand, at least for the time being. Other Indian manufacturer Shantha Biotechnics, a subsidiary of Sanofi is in Phase III of its own version of a vaccine. Shantha is also aiming to enlist organisations such as GAVI in order to help the product reach new populations throughout the world

Bharat has used strain 116E of the virus that was provided by the NIAID, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as part of a technology transfer agreement in the year 2000. The strain has then been isolated, developed and manufactured in India. Although some concerns arise regarding clinical trials as testing was not performed on an international scale, this remains nonetheless a victory for the scientific and health community of the country, and will offer a wider range of preventative treatments currently available.

Bharat’s vaccine would not only help in dealing with rotavirus infections in India, but may also have an interesting impact on the market worldwide. Rotavac would be sold to other governments and organisation such as the UNICEF for a lower cost when compared with its main competitors. Merck’s and Glaxo Smith Kline’s complete immunisation course amounts to over Rs. 2000 at list prices although they are selling to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and to UNICEF at a fraction of that price. Bharat’s Rotavac has a list price of Rs.60

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