Soon, India could have a pill for curative and even preventive dengue therapy
Staking high hopes on a plant, the Delhi chapter of global non-profit International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) and Indian multinational Sun Pharmaceuticals signed an agreement to develop a “novel” botanical drug to combat dengue, in the capital on Wednesday. Supported by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, the drug, Cipa, with its roots in traditional Ayurvedic knowledge, is projected as the first plant-based medicine to be supported by the rigour and the clinical programme required for chemical drug, in India.
“The US FDA approved four botanical drugs from China last year,” said Dr Naveen Khanna of the ICGEB, “India should woke up and create these drugs with the help of modern science.”
The formal pact comes on the heels of eight years of research, by Khanna’s team at ICGEB, supported by specialists in ayurveda by Ranbaxy, which was acquired by Sun Pharma in 2014. Four years from now, India could have a pill for curative and even preventive dengue therapy.
India has a massive disease burden and nearly half of the global population at risk of dengue. Only last year, the country saw one the worst outbreaks in recent times, with Delhi reporting 10,683 cases by October.
A chemical drug, according to Dr Khanna, is one where the molecule is created in the laboratory. Not so here, where it is derived from the plant Cissampelos pareira Linn, commonly known as abuta, and laghu patha in ayurveda. Its extract has shown to inhibit all four strains of dengue (DENVs). The Cipa drug also taps into the push towards traditional medicine by the current government, as acknowledged by Dr Khanna and Dr Altaf Lal, senior advisor with Sun Pharma. Last December, pushed by the Ministry of AYUSH, the Indian Council of Medical Research signed an MoU with the Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences to develop treatment for dengue. ICMR DG Dr Swaminathan had told dna that there was government encouragement to integrate allopathic and traditional medicines.
The agreement to develop Cipa, though unrelated to, and according to Dr Lal, predating this MoU, fits well into such a climate. However, scientists from both the ICGEB and Sun Pharma lay much emphasis on supporting any “holistic” medicine with the clinical trials of modern science, so that, as Dr Khanna said, such a drug could be prescribed by all doctors, not just AYUSH practitioners. Drugs under AYUSH, with no such clinical trials can only be prescribed by AYUSH doctors.
Dr Khanna told dna that the project came about in 2007 when Professor Handa of the Department of Biotechnology approached ICGEB to study plant extracts for dengue treatment, and connected them with Ranbaxy’s 80 member team of ayurveda specialists. “We don’t know yet, how it interferes with the proliferation of the dengue virus,” said Dr Khanna of the extract of Cissampelos pareira, “but we know it does.” Dr Lal added to dna that its long history of usage and safety gave the researchers confidence in using the plant.
It currently has patents in 17 countries, while awaiting one in India. Sun Pharma will have access to intellectual properties in all countries.
While the world largely focuses on vaccines, the scientists involved with Cipa doubt the efficacy of any of the current contenders, mainly Sanofi Pasteur’s Dengvaxia that cleared clinical trials in parts of Latin America last year, and was reportedly being brought to India. Though admitting the were in competition with Sanofi, scientists pointed out its limitations of only being suitable for those between the ages of 9 to 45.