Cervavac, India’s first indigenously developed vaccine for cervical cancer

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On Thursday, September 1, Dr Jitendra Singh, Union Minister of Science and Technology, announced that Cervavac, India’s first locally developed quadrivalent human papillomavirus (qHPV) vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer, had reached its scientific goal.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most prevalent cancer in women worldwide, despite being largely preventable, according to the WHO. An estimated 570,00 women were diagnosed with the illness in 2018, and it was responsible for 311,000 fatalities worldwide.

The vaccine will be released later this year, according to Dr Rajesh Gokhale, Secretary of the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology and Chairperson of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). According to estimates from the Serum Institute of India, the price would be between Rs 200 and 400, he said in an interview.

In India, how prevalent is cervical cancer?

With 1.23 lakh cases and roughly 67,000 fatalities each year, India is responsible for about a fifth of the world’s cervical cancer cases.

Human papillomavirus (HPV), a widespread virus that is spread through sex, is linked to almost all cases of cervical cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the body’s immune system typically clears the HPV infection naturally within two years, but in a small percentage of people, the virus can linger over time and transform some normal cells into abnormal cells and eventually cancer (CDC).

Cervical cancer can be prevented if detected early and treated effectively, but it kills one woman in India every eight minutes, according to Dr Smita Joshi, the principal investigator for Serum Institute of India’s HPV vaccine study.

Who developed the new qHPV vaccine?

The Serum Institute of India, located in Pune, developed Cervavac in collaboration with the Department of Biotechnology of the Indian Government (DBT). In 2011, Dr M. K. Bhan, who was the DBT’s secretary at the time, carried out the project to develop the vaccine. Since then, 30 scientific advisory group meetings and site visits by DBT have assisted in reviewing the scientific merit of the entire process of vaccine development.

On July 12 of this year, the Drug Controller General of India approved Cervavac’s market authorization.

How well does the new vaccine (Cervavac) work?

According to Dr Rajesh Gokhale, HPV vaccines are administered in two doses, and research has shown that the antibodies that form after both are given can last up to six or seven years. According to him, the cervical cancer vaccine may not need booster shots as Covid vaccines do.

Up until now, the HPV vaccines sold in India were made by foreign companies and ran between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,500 per dose. Cervavac is anticipated to cost between Rs 200 and 400, making it significantly less expensive.

Additionally, it has shown a strong antibody response against all targeted HPV types in all dose and age groups that are nearly 1,000 times higher than the baseline.

The biggest challenge will be allocating enough money and staff to vaccinate the vast population of adolescent girls between the ages of 9 and 15 so that they are protected from HPV at a young age.

Dr Smita Joshi asserts that there is a critical need to increase community awareness of the illness and the vaccine. Contrary to Covid and the vaccination campaign, very little is known about cervical cancer. It is alarming that there is such a low level of community awareness and screening. A significant awareness campaign is needed because this illness is preventable, according to Dr Joshi.

Experts predict that vaccination programmes offered in schools will be successful. Since there are none at the moment, planning will need to be done in that direction, according to Dr Joshi. At schools supported by the government, those who have access to public health programmes will receive the vaccine free of charge. However, to ensure the participation of NGOs and private healthcare facilities in an efficient rollout, concerted efforts will need to be made.