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Approval for home-grown cervical cancer vaccine could be a game-changer

If things go according to schedule, Cervavac should be ready for mass manufacturing by the end of the year. The government shouldn't lose time in including the vaccine in the country's Universal Immunisation Programme.

cervical cancer, Cervavac, human papillomavirus (HPV), Drugs Controller General of India, Indian express, Opinion, Editorial, Current AffairsHPV is a common pathogen. But only a small proportion of its strains cause cancer. The disease is largely preventable and a combination of early screening techniques and vaccination has reduced its virulence considerably in most developed countries in the past 15 years. India has remained an outlier to these developments.

On Tuesday, India took a significant step forward in checking cervical cancer which kills more than 60,000 women in the country every year. The Drugs Controller General of India granted market authorisation to the Pune-based Serum Institute to manufacture the country’s first indigenously developed vaccine, Cervavac, against the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is responsible for more than 95 per cent of cervical cancer cases. The vaccine, which has been almost four years in the making, reported encouraging results in the clinical trials — an antibody response that’s 1,000 times more than the baseline required against all HPV types. If things go according to SII’s schedule, Cervavac should be ready for mass manufacturing by the end of the year. The government shouldn’t lose time in including the vaccine in the country’s Universal Immunisation Programme.

HPV is a common pathogen. But only a small proportion of its strains cause cancer. The disease is largely preventable and a combination of early screening techniques and vaccination has reduced its virulence considerably in most developed countries in the past 15 years. India has remained an outlier to these developments. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s data show that there are more than 4 lakh cervical cancer patients in the country at any given time — it’s the second-most common cancer amongst Indian women. The health ministry’s guidelines recommend cervical cancer screening every five years for women above 30 at primary health centres and sub-health centres. But several studies have shown that the public health system in large parts of the country is ill-equipped to perform such gynaecological procedures, despite their relatively low cost. In 2018, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommended the inclusion of cervical cancer vaccines in the country’s Universal Immunisation Programme. But the high costs of vaccines, then manufactured by the pharma multinationals Merck and Glaxo Smithkline, proved to be a deterrent — the regimen costs upwards of Rs 4,000. The drug regulator’s approval of the homegrown vaccine could prove to be a game-changer in the battle against cervical cancer.

According to the WHO, a vast majority of cervical cancer deaths happen in middle- and low-income countries. The global health agency’s plans to vaccinate 90 per cent of women below the age of 15 by 2030 hasn’t made much headway largely because of global big pharma’s monopoly on the vaccines. The SII’s website notes that Cervavac will be available to developing countries “in the near future”. Developments in the Pune-based manufacturer’s laboratory will be keenly watched.

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First published on: 14-07-2022 at 03:46:55 am
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