A vaccine to prevent dengue fever discovered by a Saint Louis University researcher in 1997 and now licensed worldwide by Sanofi Pasteur has been approved for use in Mexico. Dengvaxia® is the world's first vaccine approved to prevent dengue fever, which is a virus spread by mosquitoes primarily in tropical and sub-tropical areas.
"Dengue fever is a huge costly and debilitating health problem in virtually all developing countries. It is very painful, puts people in the hospital and takes a major toll on the health of children," said Graeme Thomas, director of the office of technology transfer at Saint Louis University.
"SLU is a leader in the field of vaccine development and we're proud to play a role in efforts to prevent human suffering and disease."
According to the World Health Organization, about half of the world's population is at risk of developing dengue fever, which is a growing health threat. Dengue is believed to be under-reported, with an estimated 390 million infections a year. With symptoms similar to influenza, dengue affects babies, young children and adults. A rare and severe form of dengue can be deadly, causing extensive bleeding under the skin and inside the body.
Saint Louis University holds the patent on the vaccine, which was developed in 1997 by Thomas Chambers, M.D., then an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology. While at SLU, Chambers studied flaviviruses, which typically are spread by mosquitoes in hot, rainy climates. He has subsequently pursued a career in private industry.
A biopharmaceutical company that became Acambis Inc. obtained rights for vaccines developed at SLU to prevent dengue, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile. Acambis later partnered with Sanofi Pasteur to conduct human clinical trials of the vaccine in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Acambis was acquired by Sanofi in 2008.
While Mexico is the first country to approve the use of the dengue vaccine, regulatory boards in other countries where dengue fever is endemic are reviewing licensing the vaccine. In a press release, Sanofi said it has produced first doses of the vaccine. When operating at full production capacity, Sanofi expects to produce 100 million vaccine doses a year.