Vaccine :: Health officials renew Indo-U.S. vaccine action program

U.S. and Indian health officials have renewed the Indo-U.S. Vaccine Action Program (VAP), a 20-year-old bilateral collaboration supporting research on vaccines, immunology and related biomedical issues. The VAP aims to reduce the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases of public health significance in India, the United States and other parts of the world, and to promote vaccines as one of the most cost-effective health technologies.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., and Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology in India, Maharaj K. Bhan, M.D., signed the Joint Statement on May 3, 2007, renewing this historic program for another five-year period.

?The Indo-U.S. Vaccine Action Program continues to demonstrate that international cooperation focused on outstanding research and the development of critically important public health tools can save millions of lives,? says Dr. Zerhouni. ?The U.S. government remains steadfast in its commitment to this program and its scientific vision.?

Dr. Bhan, a former VAP grantee, and presently Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, a nodal Department implementing the program, says that the VAP has been one of India’s most important and successful international scientific collaborations since the program began in 1987. ?A total of 35 collaborative research projects have been funded over the last two decades, and many talented young scientists have been trained through relationships fostered by this program,? he notes.

VAP?s research priorities include acute respiratory illnesses, hepatitis, rotavirus diarrhea, cholera, leishmaniasis, typhoid, rabies, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and Roger Glass M.D., Ph.D., NIH associate director for international research and director, Fogarty International Center, also attended the event and welcomed continuation of the program. On behalf of the U.S. government, NIAID manages the VAP and has provided scientific guidance since its inception.

?The widespread use of existing vaccines and the development of new vaccines are essential as we confront vaccine-preventable diseases globally,? says Dr. Fauci.

Based on the success of VAP, several other NIH institutes and another agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have signed similar bilateral agreements with the government of India.

?These collaborations clearly benefit both countries and the global biomedical and public health research community more broadly,? notes Dr. Glass.

Many VAP-supported research projects have directly addressed critical health problems. Rotavirus is responsible for about 20 percent of diarrhea-related hospitalizations and 100,000 deaths in India each year. With VAP funding, Indian and American scientists discovered novel strains of rotavirus in Indian newborns. Further research confirmed that when these strains are used as a basis for candidate vaccines, the vaccines might protect against the disease. Drs. Bhan and Glass developed the candidate vaccine, which is being tested in large-scale clinical trials in India.

Other successful collaborations include the development of a new hepatitis C diagnostic test for Indian patients. As a demonstration of the program?s commitment to move from discovery to public health impact, VAP also will assist the commercial development of these diagnostic measures. This is especially important because currently available diagnostic methods that are reasonably effective in the United States have shown low specificity in India.

Recently, three VAP scientific missions to India discussed cooperation on HIV/AIDS, rabies and malaria. Since rabid animal bites and rabies-related human deaths are common in India, U.S. experts helped review the status of rabies prevention and recommended actions that might reduce the number of people who die. Efforts also are under way to develop collaboration on malaria vaccine research.

The Indian government?s Department of Biotechnology and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services jointly fund the program. Research proposals are peer-reviewed by both governments through established systems.

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