Thai researchers expect to make dengue vaccine in five years
Thai medical researchers who believe they have produced a vaccine that will protect against all strains of dengue hemorrhagic fever said last week they expect the vaccine will be available to the public in about five years, as testing and production have been turned over to a Japanese company with the industrial capacity to produce large quantities of the drug.
Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a serious concern among those living in and visiting the tropics. Borne by mosquitoes, it can strike those living in cities, unlike malaria, which is usually a risk only in certain border areas. Dengue hemorrhagic fever has infected over 100,000 people in Thailand so far this year, and caused more than 100 deaths. The public health system can only provide palliative care to dengue victims at this point in time.
Thailand’s public health system is one of the country’s strengths, and has often been praised by the United Nations as a model that other developing nations can learn from. Aside from providing a universal health care system to its citizens, the Kingdom is also a prime destination for medical tourists because of the high quality of care, expertise of medical personnel and the affordable costs.
Although Thailand does not have the capacity to produce vaccines on a large scale at present, the country’s medical community and public health systems have shown they have the capacity to carry out large-scale vaccine testing. Thailand succeeded in staging a multi-year trial of a combination vaccine to protect against HIV and AIDS that involved 16,000 people. The vaccine proved partially effective and provided hope that an improved version may be able to be developed.
Suthee Yoksan, director of Centre for Vaccine Development at Mahidol University’s Institute of Molecular Bio-sciences, said his team had been working on a dengue vaccine since 2009 and results have been extremely promising. Monkeys injected with the vaccine had shown 100 percent immunization against all strains of dengue. Immunity occurred 14 to 28 days after vaccination and could last for up to five to 10 years, he said.
Tests on human will begin next year, he said. They will proceed in three phases. The first phase would take place in Australia and be tested on 20 to 50 subjects. That phase will last one year. The second phase would be a test on 100 to 400 subjects in Thailand, which would take two years. The third phase, also in Thailand, would be carried out on over 5,000 people and take three years.
Should all go well, then the vaccine could be complete and ready for the general public five years, he said.
At a seminar on dengue at Mahidol University last week, doctors called on the government to increase funding for research and care. They also raised concerns that the blood supply in Thailand isn’t being tested for dengue. Public awareness about dengue has risen recently because a famous Thai actor Tridsadee “Por” Sahawong was admitted to a hospital with a critical case of dengue fever.