This was a good news, bad news week for Chinese science.
China’s got its first vaccine ever pre-qualified by the World Health Organization. Pre-qualification means that, “WHO has given the vaccine its stamp of approval in safety and efficacy terms, and United Nations procuring agencies can now source this vaccine,” according to the UN.
It’s actually better news still for China’s ambitions to displace India as the world’s pharmacy. This vaccine is not some biological look-alike for a vaccine discovered in Europe or North America and it’s not a johnny-come-lately me too product either. This Japanese Encephalitis (JE) vaccine was developed by the Chengdu Institute of Biological Products, albeit with a very large dose of Gates Foundation funding delivered through PATH, a US NGO. There are other JE vaccines but the old ones are made from mouse brains (not for the squeamish and safe until we discover the next prion infection hidden in brain tissue and unaffected by any feasible sterilisation procedure). The new ones, from Australia and Europe are expensive.
Better news still for China, research by Hyderus and by our sister company, Baird’s CMC consistently puts JE at the top of the wishlist for new vaccines in southern and eastern Asia. Often, when our researchers tried to engage in discussions about pneumonia or diarrhoea, respondents often just wanted to talk about mosquito-borne disease such as dengue and JE. Both affect rich and poor and are difficult to prevent without a vaccine. As Halstead and Thomas note, “there has been a pattern of steadily enlarging recurrent seasonal outbreaks in Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, and India, with small outbreaks in the Philippines, Indonesia, and the northern tip of Queensland, Australia. Seasonal rains are accompanied by increases in mosquito populations and increased transmission. Pigs serve as amplifying hosts.”
The bad news for Chinese science is new evidence of massive fraud. It is exactly the fear of this fraud that respondents talk about whenever we research likely adoption of Chinese vaccines. No-one is suggesting that the JE vaccine research has any element of fraud but an article on the extent of publication fraud in China in this week’s Economist will inevitably feed pre-existing fears and prejudices about all new Chinese vaccines.
illustration courtesy of Wikipedia