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Development of AIDS vaccine -- Chiron Corp in talks with four Indian cos

A NOVEL research-cum-manufacturing agreement between Chiron Corp, the US-based vaccine major, and an Indian company for the development of a potential AIDS vaccine to halt the spread of the deadly disease in the country is in an advanced stage of finalisation.

Two Hyderabad-based biotechnology/pharma companies -- Shanta Biotechnics and Biological E -- are reportedly the front-runners for the proposed project, which entails an upfront technology transfer fee of $30 million being sought by Chiron Corp, according to industry sources.

The Union Department of Biotechnology (DBT), which received the proposal from Chiron Corp, invited four Indian biotech/pharma companies for discussions towards January-end. These were Ranbaxy Research Laboratories, Serum Institute of India, Shanta Biotechnics and Biological E.

``We are closely examining the proposal made by Chiron Corp as part of our industry-academia initiatives and will take a decision on the Indian partner soon,'' the Secretary of DBT, Dr Manju Sharma, told Business Line.

The DBT expert group on vaccines is looking at the candidate vaccine against AIDS claimed and offered as technology transfer by Chiron Corp. The vaccine is said to be close to being subjected to human trials.

The Managing Director of Shanta Biotechnics (one of the favourites for the collaboration), Mr K. Varaprasada Reddy, confirmed that his company had detailed discussions with Chiron Corp. ``We are willing to take up the project if selected,'' he told Business Line.

Scientists of Chiron Corp including its Chairman had visited the facilities of Shanta Biotechnics during 2000. ``We also have the advantage of possessing recombinant DNA technology for producing vaccines,'' Mr Reddy said.

The collaboration with Chiron Corp would help in giving India a lead of couple of years in the realisation of a viable AIDS vaccine. The funds for carrying out the relevant research and developm ent, however, have to be raised. The vaccine had to be fine-tuned to be effective against the HIV variant, prevalent in India, Mr Reddy said.

Shanta Biotechnics was in the process of finalising its plans for a private placement to raise funds both for establishing an US FDA-approved research-cum-manufacturing facility and also to take up joint initiatives with pharma majors like the above, he said.

Various studies and forecasts made on AIDS in India warn of an epidemic with infection numbers being put at nearly 40 lakh at present. With the costs of the few available anti-AIDS drugs still very much beyond the affordability of the victims, a vaccine is being perceived as a welcome development.

DBT and the Union Ministry of Health have already started a vaccine development project under the Indo-US initiative on HIV/AIDS.


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