Anti-viral drug for dengue in the offing

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The war against dengue could soon get a new weapon. Scientists at the New Delhi-based International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) are in the final stages of developing a new anti-viral that promises to tackle all the four types of dengue virus.

Disclosing this, Naveen Khanna senior scientist at ICGEB, said the drug has been validated in animals and is ready to undergo all the mandated safety and toxicity tests as per existing regulations. “Human trials have to take place and we are confident that the new drug would be available in the market in a few years.”

The new drug is derived from a plant called Cissampelos pareira Linn (Cipa). It has been patented in 17 countries across the world.

The drug is the result of an exhaustive search of ayurvedic texts, triggered by a talk delivered by former President of Indian National Science Academy, Prof. M.S.Valiathan at the institute.

“A chance talk by Prof. Valiathan on the theme of ‘Ayurveda and modern medicine’ set us thinking. We thought why not examine ancient texts to find if any of the herbs mentioned there could be a fit cure for dengue. We established collaboration with Ayurvedic practitioners and tested many of the herbs mentioned in texts.”

The task was, however, not simple. Ayurvedic and Sanskrit literature often describe herbs with therapeutic utility rather than botanical source. At times variation in the language causes confusion in the nomenclature of different plants having similar name. All these could lead to identifying a wrong plant as the one mentioned in the text. The researchers selected a set of nineteen plants including neem, aloe and basil, which were said to provide relief to symptoms similar to dengue. Their extracts were prepared and tested against dengue virus.

After years of trial and error, researchers were able to identify Cissampelos pareira Linn as a potential candidate. “We have signed an agreement with Sun Pharma to produce the world’s first botanical drug against dengue,” said Dr. Khanna.

He noted that the drug could be of great help in terms of preventing development of drug resistance as botanical drugs are a mixture of molecules and it is harder for pathogens to develop resistance against all of them.

The ICGEB, he said, has also developed a tetravalent vaccine that promises to act against dengue, with support from Wellcome Trust, Department of Biotechnology and the Indo-US Vaccine Programme. The vaccine has been patented internationally. Clinical trials are awaited. “It has a virus like immunogenetic material, which attacks business end of the virus that can give immunity.”

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