Argentina brings vaccine research home

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[BUENOS AIRES] Vaccine research and development has received a boost in Argentina thanks to a US$3 million funding programme announced by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology on 21 March.

Until now, there has been little vaccine research in Argentina and the country is reliant on imported vaccines for its immunisation programmes.

Argentina’s Central Public Health Laboratory in Buenos Aires will receive US$1 million to research and manufacture versions of the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine against tuberculosis and a combined vaccine against diphtheria and tetanus using local strains of the bacteria that cause the diseases.

“Having its own vaccines is of strategic importance to Argentina,” says Silvia Kochen, advisor to the deputy health minister, and coordinator of the health ministry’s Strategic Group for Public Production of Vaccines and Medicines.

“It is not just about saving money by making our own doses or gaining some weight in our region as vaccine manufacturers,” she says. “We are following recommendations made by the World Health Organization about having vaccines developed from local strains of pathogens to make them more successful.”

As part of the same funding package, the National Drug, Food and Medical Technology Administration will get US$1.2 million to improve quality control in vaccine manufacturing.

The University of Córdoba will receive US$660,000 to buy new equipment for its viral genome research laboratories, which will expand its blood sampling and analysis capabilities.

Some of the new equipment will be used to manufacture vaccines that the government will buy to distribute all over the country. The money raised by selling vaccines will be used to increase the institution’s research budget.

Finally, the funding includes a grant of US$140,000 for the National Institute of Human Viral Diseases. The institute will use these funds to test its Candid #1 vaccine against the virus that causes Argentinean haemorrhagic fever, a common disease in rural Argentina that kills about 30 per cent of infected people if left untreated.

The institute developed the vaccine in 1992 but because Argentina lacked the means to produce it, the country struck a manufacturing deal with US-based Jonas Salk Institute.

Before producing it locally, researchers at the Argentinean National Institute of Human Viral Diseases say the vaccine needs to be tested more thoroughly in humans.

The US$3 million funding will be distributed in October or November and is a one-off investment, says Kochen.

“Local vaccine research and development is necessary to help keep our scientists in the country,” says Martín Istúriz, head of the Basic Immunology Laboratory at the National Academy of Medicine.

But, despite his approval for the initiative, Istúriz says it could be improved upon. In addition to the BCG, haemorrhagic fever, and combined diphtheria and tetanus vaccines, he believes Argentina should produce the triple vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and the quadruple vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and influenza.

“It is of strategic importance for us, as a country, to have people able to do that kind of research and manufacturing,” he says.