Navin Khanna and team
International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology (ICGEB) and Sun Pharma
Dengue is caused by four viruses. Each of these four has multiple strains. All of them have similar effects on the patient. A patient could be found infected with one or more different kinds of dengue virus. And it is cumbersome to know which one or how many of these dengue viruses are circulating in the patient’s body.
Any drug has to be effective against all four viruses and their different forms. Therein lies the challenge of drug development for dengue.
But, of much greater significance is our initial success in developing a drug for dengue. In 2009, the Department of Biotechnology had asked us to look for anti-dengue properties in plants used in Ayurvedic medicines. Because we are dealing with a large number of viruses, a drug that can counter this broad spectrum of viruses can potentially also be highly toxic for the patient. An Ayurveda approach was therefore considered a safer option to explore.
We had the pharmaceutical major Ranbaxy, later acquired by Sun Pharma, as co-collaborators on this project. Ranbaxy had a team on Ayurveda while we had a team on dengue biology. We worked for about four years on this project, with help from AIIMS as well. We zeroed in on 22 Indian plants that are known to be used in the Ayurvedic form of medicine for treatment of symptoms that are similar in nature to those that get manifested in dengue, like fever, pain or hemorrhage.
Ranbaxy collected all these plant extracts and sent them to ICGEB. We screened these extracts to study the kind of impact these have on the dengue virus. For us, the important thing was to look for that one extract that can act against all four different kinds of dengue viruses and all their multiple forms. Anything less than that would not be worthwhile developing a drug from.
To our great satisfaction, we did find one plant that was able to effectively stop growth and proliferation of all the four dengue viruses in the laboratory. This extract, from Cissampelos pariera or CIPA, was a potential candidate for developing a botanical drug for dengue. We have already filed two patents on this. The first one is about this particular plant showing anti-dengue properties while the second one was the claim that this particular extract can cure dengue.
Sun Pharma and ICGEB have decided to take this forward, and co-develop this drug. We have already started the drug-development project in May, and it is expected to continue until May next year.
The actual drug, if developed successfully, will take slightly longer to be available in the market. Sun Pharma will do all the clinical trials and get all the approvals, which will take at least three to four years’ time.