Today it was announced that the use of the only approved Dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, is to be strictly limited due to evidence it can worsen the disease in people who have not previously been exposed to the infection.
The bad news is a setback for the millions of people that still suffer Dengue infections worldwide.
In most of the 390 million annual cases, Dengue infection will pass as an unpleasant “flue like” infection, but in 500.000 cases each year, Dengue virus infection results in Severe Dengue, requiring hospitalisation, while putting a huge burden on developing countries in South America and Southeast Asia. In over 22.000 patents, Dengue Shock Syndrome is fatal and no antiviral agents are available.
The world is clearly in need of an effective Dengue vaccine but unfortunately many viral infections such as Dengue still pose serious challenges for vaccine developers due to rapid mutation of viruses such as in HIV or Influenza, or as is the case in dengue, the existence of several different serotypes of Dengue viruses.
The Dengue virus case is especially complex as a result of a phenomenon called Antibody-Dependent Enhancement (ADE). ADE occurs when a person who has previously been infected with one of the four serotypes of DENV becomes infected many months or years later with a different serotype. In such cases, the course of the disease is far more severe and may result in a “cytokine storm” effect, with clinical symptoms similar to Ebola infection.
As a result, vaccines that do not offer full protection against all four Dengue serotypes might potentially enhance the risk of ADE related complications in people that become infected with a Dengue serotype not covered by the vaccine’s immunisation.
First Health Pharmaceuticals developed the world’s first effective Dengue antivirus agent, targeting cellular RNA host factors needed for the virus’ replication while at the same time mitigating the cytokine storm effect that is so devastating in Dengue Shock Syndrome.
Regardless of the fact that the Dengue antivirus pipeline represents a substantial value, First Health Pharmaceuticals nevertheless transferred the rights of the Dengue antivirus development program for developing countries to its associated non-profit organisation First Health United Foundation:
“We believe that the benefits of a free and worldwide available effective Severe Dengue antivirus will be of inestimable value to humanity, both in the form of improved quality of life and the reduced burden on the often fragile healthcare facilities of developing countries. But most of all it will manifest itself in the tens of thousands of human lives that will be saved each year all over the world.
We believe that a world without the fear of Severe Dengue Fever is worth every imaginable effort and together we will be able to make this dream come true”.