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Greenwire/New York Times Examine Dengue Vaccine Development

Greenwire/New York Times reports on the growing number of cases of dengue worldwide, including the CDC’s report last month that the virus has now been locally acquired in the continental U.S. for the first time in 65 years. “While a few cases were reported earlier, they were primarily in Americans who had caught the virus abroad or at the Texas-Mexico border,” the news service writes.

“Experts say more than half the world’s population will be at risk by 2085 because of greater urbanization, global travel and climate change,” the news service writes. Additionally, more than 30 years of appeals by the public to stop using the pesticide DDT have also helped the mosquitoes that carry the virus, to flourish.

Greenwire/New York Times continues, “Epidemics have become routine in Latin America, a continent on the verge of becoming highly endemic. Outbreaks are today raging in Brazil, Guatemala and other nations. Thailand, within a week of its annual dengue season this year, has already reported 18,000 cases and 20 deaths, according to the Ministry of Public Health. … As the virus spreads in the tropics, experts are continuing to push toward an ultimate solution for the mosquito-borne illnesses: an effective and affordable vaccine. There are no drugs for the disease.”

The article notes that Sanofi Pasteur has created “the most advanced vaccine against the life-threatening disease carried by the tiger mosquito, Aedes aegypti” to date. “The company has recruited 4,000 children ages 4 to 11 in Thailand who will receive three shots of a vaccine that should protect them, if all goes well. Final trials will be conducted in an even larger group,” the news service writes. Last month, during a meeting in Chicago, Sanofi Pastuer’s Jean Lang speculated his company could begin Phase III clinical trials of the dengue vaccine by year’s end.

The article examines several other potential dengue vaccines, including one developed in partnership between the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Thailand and GlaxoSmithKline. Also noted are the challenges involved with dengue vaccine development, and the history of the U.S. investment in dengue research.

“Developing vaccines for infectious diseases that primarily afflict low- and middle-income countries has traditionally been a low priority. But with the re-emergence of the disease in the Western Hemisphere, a $55 million increase in funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003, and interest from major pharmaceutical companies, research has flourished, said Lt. Col. [Stephen] Thomas,” a U.S. Army physician at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Thailand.

The piece also includes comments by Kim Knowlton of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Anna Durbin of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Paul Epstein, associate director of the center for health and the global environment at Harvard Medical School (Vaidyanathan, 6/28).

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