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Last Updated

20 Aug 2003

Source: Newsday, August 19, 2003

Indian Co. Working on New Anthrax Vaccine

By S. SRINIVASAN, Associated Press Writer

BANGALORE, India -- An Indian company said Tuesday it is conducting trials for an anthrax vaccine that will be safer and cheaper than the vaccine currently used around the world, and which it hopes to begin selling by March 2004.

"We have completed 75 percent of trials on animals. We will be starting human trials in December," said Anil Chawla, head of research and development at Panacea Biotech, a New Delhi-based biotechnology firm.

Ever since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed -- the vaccine currently used in the United States and other countries -- 30 years ago, scientists have been trying to improve on it.

The old preparation contains traces of toxins which can cause a range of skin conditions, breathing difficulties, fever, nausea and even anorexia. To prevent anthrax, patients must receive six shots of the vaccine, which costs around US$4 a dose, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

"It will be one of the safest recombinant vaccines in the world," said Chawla of Panacea Biotech's yet-to-be-named preparation. "It has no traces of toxic proteins."

The Panacea vaccine, which will be less expensive than the current option, would be administered in a single shot, Chawla said. He did not say how much it would cost.

The company has been granted a license by the Indian government to produce the vaccine, which was developed during a seven-year project partly funded by the government's Department of Biotechnology.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijack attacks in the United States, a number of anthrax-laced letters were sent there. Five people died and 17 others were sickened in the attacks, the U.S. postal service has said.

Since those attacks, U.S. military personnel and post office workers have been considered vulnerable to anthrax attacks.

However, since the anthrax vaccination was made mandatory for all U.S. military personnel in 1998, hundreds of service members have been disciplined or discharged for refusing to take it, and more than three dozen have been court-martialed.

The Pentagon insists the vaccination is safe, saying severe adverse reactions developing in only one in 100,000 cases.

Anthrax comes from a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. People who come in contact with anthrax spores break out in black pustules.