News / Asia

Thailand Cites Progress Towards Dengue Fever Vaccine

Thai health officials spray chemical to kill mosquitos during a campaign to fight against dengue fever at a slum area on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, May 13, 2005 (file photo)
Thai health officials spray chemical to kill mosquitos during a campaign to fight against dengue fever at a slum area on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, May 13, 2005 (file photo)

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Ron Corben

Thailand’s Ministry of Science says progress is being made to develop a vaccine for the mosquito-borne dengue fever virus, which each year claims thousands of lives across South East Asia. Thailand hopes to produce an affordable vaccine for the regional market within a decade.

The World Health Organization says up to 50 million people a year, in more than 100 countries, are infected by the mosquito-borne dengue fever virus. Scientists say the virus’ spread is aided by higher rainfall patterns in tropical areas.

The challenge for scientists has long been in developing a single vaccine to match the four types of dengue virus.

Now, Thai scientists and Thailand’s Ministry of Health say a successful round of preliminary tests offers hope they will produce a dengue vaccine in the near future.

On Monday, the Ministry appointed private company Bionet-Asia to oversee the production effort.

Thai Minister for Science and Technology, Dr. Virachai Virameteekul, said the vaccine’s development, thus far, is a major accomplishment after decades of research into the virus.

"This is a very big step in terms of producing the dengue vaccine which is the accumulation of our knowledge and Thai scientists and Thai researchers over the past 20 to 30 years. What we are successful today is this, we are able to come up with a vaccine solution that is workable in the laboratory."

Each year an estimated 200,000 people in Thailand fall ill from the virus. Children are most at risk of death because they lack the anti-body protection adults develop.

A project researcher, Dr. Boonsok Keelapang, says children will be the main beneficiaries of a vaccine.

"It will take some time because this is like the first generation. So if we test we may need to adjust at some point to make a safer vaccine. (But) it is important because if we succeed we can help our children in our country because dengue is the disease affecting Thai people - all the people in South East Asia - and we need all the power to help together and to make it work."

Scientists say challenges remain in the final production of a vaccine. There are four types of the dengue virus, but a single vaccine dose must be able to able to cover all types of the virus to avoid complications for the patient.

Bionet-Asia president Vitoon Vongsangool expects the company to spend up to $100 million before the vaccine is commercially available.  The key challenge, he said, is to ensure it is affordable.

"Our concern is that we want to make it affordable. We are unlike a multi-national. We want to make the vaccine affordable. When you make it affordable you get more in terms of volume (which) we are quite confident because we know the cost."

Vitoon said the main regional markets will include India, Indonesia, South East Asia and China, once the vaccine becomes commercially available within 10 years. He said the development also will enable Thailand to be self sufficient with technical development, as well as manpower.

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