Few Thoughts about Vaccine Trial in Bangladesh
Professor Mamun Al Mahtab (Shwapnil)
Like any other average person any development with COVID-19 management is the most attractive news for me these days, especially given the fact that it has not even been a week that me and my family members recovered from this disease. As expected, I have been keenly following the stories of vaccine development for SARS-CoV-2. The media focus has now turned to China from UK and then USA, with the prospect of phase III clinical trial of a Chinese vaccine candidate in the ether. Especially with the prospect that Bangladesh is a possible site for clinical trial of this vaccine candidate, the news has made way to most of the domestic media. This news was first disclosed by the present Director General of our Health Services. It did not however draw at least much of my attention, like it possibly did not draw the attention of most of my countrymen. Besides as far as my knowledge goes, no vaccine candidate developed by the Chinese so far, has made it to the market beyond their own boundaries. Examples are Chinese vaccine candidates against hepatitis E and dengue viruses, both of which are only available in mainland China.
However I got really interested seeing similar news in the front page of a top national daily. I read through the report very carefully. It read that following fruitful discussions between Chinese vaccine producer Sinovac and icddr,b of Bangladesh, Sinovac is now actively considering Bangladesh in addition to Brazil and South Korea as a potential trial site for their vaccine candidate for SARS-CoV-2, called ‘Coronavac’. This is undoubtedly good news as Bangladesh will not only be on the headlines across the globe for an absolutely new reason, but more importantly it will also open up a new avenue for yielding foreign revenue for our exchequer since such a clinical trial is likely to attract more clinical trials in Bangladesh. Being involved with this arena of science for over a decade, I know that the size of Indian clinical trial industry surpasses our pharmaceuticals market.
However at this crucial juncture of time the thing that I wanted to know most is whether this clinical trial will ensure that we Bangladeshis will be prioritized in accessing the vaccine, if it goes through this last and final hurdle of a phase III clinical trial. Because an effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is what we need most right now to protect our people. However the report did not shed any light on this aspect. It quoted a senior official of our Drug Administration of being very optimistic that we will be getting the vaccine on a priority basis. I know from my long experience with clinical trials that it is agreement between the sponsor, which is commercial entity and the contract research organization, that is Sinovac and icddr,b respectively in this case, that will dictate terms at the end of the day and not optimism by any passionate Drug Administrator.
The same report went on to add that our industry is ready to get set and go and that the Drug Administrators are already in contact with more than one potential vaccine candidate developer for priority access to a possible SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. However I must humbly admit that I am not too sure whether the handful of vaccine manufacturers in Bangladesh enjoy the capability of manufacturing a vaccine like Coronavac in Bangladesh from scratch, unless supplied to them in near finish form.
So what happens if a phase III clinical trial in Bangladesh does not ensure priority vaccination of the Bangladesh population in the long run? Should we not go for it? Should the clinical trial be stopped? The answer is ‘no’. We should still go for such vaccine trials as this will do good to mankind, will once again showcase the ‘lion hearted Bengalees’ to the world and at the same time will open up yet another avenue for increased revenue generation for Bangladesh. However in that case this type news should not make such big headlines or consume so much time of our talk shows, as these will only create false sense of security for the innocent commoners and make implementation of the rather tougher measures of SARS-CoV-2 containment, like lock down and so on, ever more difficult.
Writer: Professor Dr Mamun Al Mahtab (Shwapnil) is chairman of the Department of Hepatology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and member secretary of Samprity Bangladesh