ICMR partners with IVI, invests Rs 3.20 crore for vaccine development in India


NEW DELHI: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has entered into an agreement to collaborate on vaccine research and development with international vaccine development organisation International Vaccine Institute (IVI). Through this partnership, India will commit $5,00,000 (Rs 3.20 crore) annually for a stake in IVI—an amount approved during a cabinet meeting in January. 

Under its latest Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), ICMR will be focussed on research and development of vaccines combatting various infectious diseases. 

“ This partnership will help us better address the vaccine needs of our children in the country and ultimately contribute to protecting people from infectious diseases,” said Manoj Jhalani, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. 

While the government and IVI have not narrowed down which diseases they will develop vaccines for, ICMR Director General Soumya Swaminathan said some disease areas that may be in focus are high-burden diseases. 

“Depending on the burden of disease, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria are both high priority areas. Apart from that, there are diseases with high morbidity like dengue and chikungunya,” Swaminathan told ET. “Influenza, where people are talking about a universal flu vaccine, is another potential area,” she added. 

India is on the World Health Organisation’s current list of 30 high TB burden countries and in 2015 recorded the highest TB-related deaths—around 60,000—among children under 15 years of age, according to a study published in the Lancet. 

The country also has a high burden of malaria, recording upwards of 10.90 lakh cases every year since 2014. As of June this year, India has already recorded 3.52 lakh cases, according to the National Vector Borne Disease Control Program’s data. 

According to NVBDCP, in 2016, India recorded the highest number of cases of dengue (1.29 lakh) and chikungunya fever (64,057) in the last seven years. 

Under ICMR’s latest partnership, vaccine candidates developed in IVI labs could be brought to India and given to one of the companies here for further development, explained Swaminathan. IVI may also facilitate further global testing of vaccine candidates developed in Indian labs by linking developers here with global partners, she added. 

The partnership is further expected to help with capacity building for clinical trials within India as well, according to Swaminathan. The MoU is also expected to help support companies like Bharat Biotech, which has completed phase I clinical trials of its chikungunya vaccine and has expressed the need for support in conducting phase II and III trials for the candidate, according to her. 

India supplies 60% of the world's vaccines for vaccine-preventable diseases and contributes to 60-80% of the United Nation’s annual vaccine purchases, according to Jerome H Kim, Director General, IVI. 

“We look forward to having India’s representation on the IVI Board of Trustees, which will increase engagement with Indian academia and industry even further,” he said. 

IVI has partnered with Indian vaccine manufacturers, research institutes, government, and public health agencies on vaccine development, research, and training for over a decade, according to Kim. 

One such collaboration was with Shantha Biotechnics on the development of ‘Shanchol’, the world’s first low-cost oral cholera vaccine, which was licensed in India in 2009 and WHO-prequalified in 2011. IVI had collaborated with health authorities in Odisha to introduce this vaccine for the first time in India in 2011, according to a press statement.