Scientists develop dengue vaccine

By Gatonye Gathura

Nairobi, Kenya: Scientists at the Institute of Primate Research (IPR) in Nairobi have developed a vaccine against dengue fever, which will soon be ready for human trials.

Two cases of dengue fever were reported at the Coast over the weekend, though the Coast Director of Public Health Shahnaz Sheriff has assured Kenyans there is no cause for alarm.

Dr Thoms Kariuki, director of the Institute of Primate Research, says they have been working on the vaccine for the last three years with Cuban researchers and so far it has been successful in animal trials.

 “We have exciting results that support the suitability of the candidate vaccine against dengue, and provide the basis for future clinical trials on humans,” Kariuki told The Standard yesterday.

The search for a vaccine against the disease, Kariuki said, was prompted by emerging evidence that there have been low-key outbreaks of dengue fever in the country in the last three decades. “We have revisited our archived monkey samples since 1980, which shows evidence of the virus since then and we think recent outbreaks are being triggered either by climatic or other ecological changes,” he said.

If all goes well, Kariuki says such a vaccine would be ready for use in about five years’ time. Kenya’s is among five vaccine candidates being worked on around the world with the most advanced candidate expected in the market by 2015.

“This vaccine, which has already passed phase III human trials, is being developed by the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur,” said Kariuki.

Low priority

Dengue vaccines have been under development since the 1940s, but have been given low priority by pharmaceutical companies as they are regarded as low profit products.

The World Health Organisation recently classified dengue as among the most important emerging animal to human viruses.

Early evidence from an ongoing dengue surveillance study by IPR and the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi points to monkeys as being responsible for hosting the virus.

The surveillance led by Dr Jeneby Maamun is investigating parasites circulating in non-human primates in Kisumu, Mombasa and other urban areas.