Cancer vaccine development gives much pride to Kerala biotech research institute

The Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology provides critical lab support in development of India’s first indigenous vaccine for cervical cancer

The first ever indigenously developed vaccine aimed at the prevention of cervical cancer has brought immense pride to a Kerala-based biotech research organisation. Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), based in Thiruvananthapuram, has significantly contributed in determining the efficacy of Cervavac, the vaccine for prevention of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is the second-most prevalent cancer among women in the country.   Union Science & Technology Minister Dr Jitendra Singh, who announced the scientific completion of the quadrivalent Human Papilloma Virus (qHPV) vaccine in New Delhi last week, said cervical cancer, though largely preventable, accounts for nearly one-fourth of the world’s cervical cancer deaths.

First cervical cancer vaccine tests facilitated at RGCB

Current estimates indicate that every year approximately 1.25 lakh women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and over 75, 000 die from the disease in India while 83 per cent of invasive cervical cancers are attributed to HPV 16 and HPV 18 in the country and 70 per cent of cases worldwide.

In the development of India’s first cervical cancer vaccine, the RGCB at Thiruvananthapuram has facilitated stringent tests in its state of the art laboratory to demonstrate the efficacy of Cervavac with infections as the endpoint.

RGCB, as the scientific partner and stakeholder in this effort, has made significant contributions to the country’s determined efforts to eliminate cervical cancer, director Prof Chandrabhas Narayana said.  The RGCB laboratory for HPV testing facility is qualified as per international standards set by the WHO he added.

At the launch function in the national capital, Dr Devasena Anantharaman, scientist who is heading the project at RGCB, was invited as an expert to discuss the current status of HPV diagnostics and the future directions for academic research in this area. 

Dr Anantharaman said vaccination against HPV is the most effective intervention for preventing cervical cancer. “Vaccines mimic natural infections resulting in development of specific antibodies. In case of the qHPV vaccine also, the efficacy is measured by development of antibodies against each type of HPV present in the vaccine,” she pointed out.

Affordable, cost-effective cancer vaccine

HPV vaccination is given to young adolescent girls, while HPV infections are acquired years later and cancer occurs due to persistent infections almost four decades since vaccination. Thus, one of the measures of vaccine efficacy is also to estimate HPV infection rates in those who are administered the vaccine. It is expected that, in case of the Cervavac, the rate of HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18 infections would be negligible in vaccinated individuals, she pointed out.

The development of affordable and cost-effective cancer vaccine is expected to go a long way in helping Indian women and women across the globe, and it comes close on the heels of India developing its first mRNA vaccine and intranasal vaccine against Covid-19.

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