Chasing Sanofi's Dengvaxia, Sun Pharma licenses dengue fever vaccine from Indian biotech lab

As of September, the Zika virus was officially on U.S. soil. Local businesses must do everything they can to keep travelers feeling safe, so they remember to come back.

Sun Pharma has joined the chase to develop a dengue fever vaccine that can rival Sanofi's first-to-market Dengvaxia, which was recently delayed in India.

India's largest drugmaker has licensed its candidate from the New Delhi lab of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), according to a report in The Hindu, which suggests an official announcement of the deal will be made next month.

At the moment, Sanofi's Dengvaxia is the only licensed dengue vaccine worldwide, with Takeda and the U.S. National Institutes of Health chasing after with candidates in Phase III clinical trials. 

India accounts for nearly 50% of the global population at risk of dengue fever, but hopes of early access to vaccination were dashed when an expert committee refused to approve Dengvaxia unless Sanofi carried out clinical trials in the local population.

ICGEB's candidate, called DSV4, is designed to be effective against all four subtypes of the dengue virus and has been in development at the ICEGB for several years. While Dengvaxia is based on a live attenuated viral strain, DSV4 is a synthetic subunit vaccine constructed from dengue virus antigens. 

In theory, subunit vaccines have a lower chance of causing side effects, and ICGEB also suggests its vaccine should be cheap and easy to produce.

The move comes as Sanofi faces challenges with its Dengvaxia launch, notably due to turmoil in Latin America. After turning in just €1 million in Q2 sales, execs said the vaccine will likely miss sales estimates of €200 million for this year.

India has already had some success in the indigenous development of vaccines for serious public health issues. Last year Bharat Biotech launched home-grown rotavirus vaccine Rotavac as a cheaper alternative to Merck's RotaTeq and GlaxoSmithKline's Rotarix.

Despite support in the early stages from the Wellcome Trust, the ICGEB has struggled to secure sufficient funding to take DSV4 into large-scale clinical trials, leading to speculation it could be years from the market. Now, with the backing of Sun Pharma, its continued development seems assured and timelines could be shortened.

This is not the first time that Sun Pharma has called on the ICGEB for a dengue fever candidate. Earlier this year the drugmaker took a license to a botanical drug--based on the rainforest vine Cissampelos pariera (Cipa)--that has shown activity against the virus in laboratory testing.

The botanical developed out of an ICGEB research project looking for leads from traditional Indian medicine. It is thought to have direct antiviral activity and, if so, could be used to reduce dengue fever symptoms after infection.

Sun Pharma estimates that the cost of medical care for those who get infected with dengue is around $550 million a year in India, with additional indirect economic costs such as lost wages-- borne by patients and their families--add up to another $550 million.

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