As India's Chikungunya epidemic spreads, Zydus and Takeda partner on search for a vaccine


With India in the throes of an outbreak of Chikungunya, local drugmaker Zydus Cadila has stepped up to develop a vaccine against the crippling viral disease--with help from Japan's Takeda.

The project is still in its infancy, but it will cover a Chikungunya candidate from early-stage development through commercialization. There are currently no effective drugs or vaccines for the virus, which causes fever and severe joint pain, and is steadily spreading around the globe.

Takeda and Zydus Cadila are trying to catch other vaccine developers with Chikungunya candidates in the pipeline, including Austria's Themis Bioscience, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the U.S. and India's Bharat Biotech, all of which already have projects in clinical testing. Last month, biotech Themis Bioscience started a Phase II trial for its vaccine, what it calls “the most advanced” candidate of its kind.

The Zydus announcement follows a spate of vaccine deals for Takeda. The Japanese drugmaker is already at work on vaccines against dengue and the related Zika virus, so it brings directly relevant expertise to the Chikungunya project.

Chikungunya is spread by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, the same insects that carry Zika and dengue fever. Patients with the virus usually make a full recovery, and it is considered less serious than dengue, but the virus is debilitating and symptoms can take months to resolve. 

An epidemic currently sweeping through Delhi in India has already affected more than 1,000 people--taking the national toll since the start of the year to more than 12,000. According to unconfirmed local media reports cited by the BBC, the outbreak has claimed 11 lives.

The disease is also on the rise elsewhere, mirroring the expanding territory inhabited by the mosquitoes that spread it, according to Zydus and Takeda. Since 2005, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar and Thailand have reported more than 1.9 million cases of Chikungunya. Another 1.3 million cases have been recorded in the Americas. The virus is now found in more than 60 countries worldwide.

The partnership "will be taking an all-important step to prevent the disease burden which is highly prevalent in developing countries and causes suffering and disability," commented Pankaj Patel, Zydus Cadila's managing director.

The two pharma companies have not revealed the terms of their collaboration, but interestingly, have hinted that their collaboration may extend beyond the Chikungunya vaccine.

"It is expected that this partnership will boost access to medicines in the future," they note.

The two drugmakers both have a long heritage in vaccine development. Zydus developed India's first vaccine against H1N1 influenza and has several other candidates in development. 

Meanwhile, Takeda has been selling vaccines in Japan for 70 years and has steadily adopted a more global stance, buying Inviragen and Ligocyte in 2012 to kick-start its international vaccine development program.  

- Read the Zydus Cadila announcement
- More on the Delhi outbreak from the BBC

Related articles:

Takeda advances dengue vaccine into Phase III on heels of Zika R&D plunge
Takeda joins frenzied Zika vaccine hunt in $312M deal with U.S. government
Themis pushes into PhII with Chikungunya vax candidate
NIAID to bring Chikungunya vaccine into Phase II