Finally! A vaccine against Dengue

Scientists from Thailand have successfully produced the world’s first dengue hemorrhagic fever vaccine and will allow the private sector improve it for the effective treatment of patients. The Thailand Ministry of Science and Technology has introduced the world’s first live attenuated dengue hemorrhagic fever vaccine.

According to Thai Science and Technology Minister Virachai Virameteekul the number of dengue hemorrhagic fever patients in Thailand has risen, exceeding 100,000 last year and adding some 1,200 cases in January 2011. The World Health Organization (WHO) says dengue fever affects 50 million people annually across 100 countries, from Africa to the Americas, the Mediterranean, South-East Asia and the western Pacific.

Mr. Virachai said, “This is a very big step in terms of producing the dengue vaccine, which is the accumulation of our knowledge of Thai scientists and Thai researchers over the past 20 or 30 years… Where we are successful today is this: We are able to come up with a vaccine solution that is workable in the laboratory… We want to make sure that the work from the lab that we are successful (and) reach the people in a short period of time.”

Dr Suthee Yoksarn, a lecturer of Mahidol University, with his team and colleagues at Chiang Mai University have developed four stereotypes of the live attenuated vaccine. They combined attenuated DNA with a protein structure that stimulates immunity against the dengue hemorrhagic fever caused by the present strain of the dengue virus.

Research team member Dr Boonsook Keelapng, from Chiang Mai University, said the challenge had been producing the genetic form of the virus for dengue one (DEN-1), three (DEN-3) and four (DEN-4) “especially dengue 3 which is very difficult to construct in the laboratory”. In Australia, health authorities in Queensland have reported outbreaks of dengue 2, dengue 4 and dengue 1. In laboratory tests, the vaccine has had a success rate of 80 per cent.

Professor Prasert Auewarakul, a director at Mahidol University’s Institute of Molecular Biosciences, blames global warming for spread of the virus by allowing mosquitoes to thrive in places previously too cold for their survival. “Now it can survive and can transmit the virus and also when the weather gets warmer the life cycle of the virus in the mosquito is also faster,” he said.

Dengue haemorrhagic fever is a severe, potentially fatal infection spread by certain species of mosquitoes. This new vaccine is expected to be available for public use within a decade. Thailand’s Science and Technology Ministry has announced the appointment of Thai private sector biotech company Bionet-Asia Co to further develop the vaccine. Bio-Net Asia Co expects to spend up to $US100 million by the time the vaccine is commercially available. The company's president, Vitoon Vongsangool, says making the vaccine affordable is essential.

However there are others in the race. Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis, announced in November that its dengue vaccine was in the final stage of clinical development.

Ananya Mandal

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Ananya Mandal

Ananya is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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