Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dengue fever vaccine begins human testing round

A vaccine for Dengue fever is closer to realty as human testing is about to begin. If testing goes well, the vaccine could win regulatory approval and begin to be used against the disease commonly found in the under-developed world. Dengue fever is caused by a certain type of mosquito and brings with it severe fevers, headaches and nausea.

From the Heath Blog at NPR, writer Eliza Barclay describes the new round of testing.

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis is putting its experimental vaccine into the kind of large clinical test that can produce the evidence needed to gain regulatory approval. This comes on the heels of what it claims were several successful smaller trials in Asia and Latin America. The latest study, being conducted in Australia, is expected to take two years to finish .

The World Health Organization estimates that 2.5 billion people worldwide are at risk of getting dengue, and most of them are in Asia and Latin America. But it's also on the rise in Florida and Texas; Key West has reported 57 cases in the last two years. And on Thursday, Miami-Dade County health officials had ominous news of their own: confirmation of the first "locally acquired" case there.

At this stage, the dengue vaccine race lacks some of the unexpected twists and bitter rivalries of the polio vaccine race, but it's gotten steadily more interesting as more heavy hitters take the field.

Aside from Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline is conducting trials in Thailand, the United States, and Puerto Rico, while the U.S. government threw its hat into the ring with an announcement in August from the National Institutes of Health that it would start its own tests. And don't underestimate dark horse Brazil: its Instituto Butantan, best known for a snake farm where researchers milk snakes to make antivenoms, is now running its own trials with the NIH strains.

Every year there are 250,000 to 500,000 cases of severe cases of dengue and more than 20,000 deaths, typically from the worst permutation of the disease called dengue hemorrhagic fever, according to the World Health Organization. There is no treatment for any version of it.

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