Cheaper vaccine made in India offers millions of women hope against cervical cancer

Serum Institute of India expects to start distributing the shot in December

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, said the company's Cervavax vaccine would cost between $2.50 and $5.00.  Reuters
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Doctors in India have described a locally made vaccine as a breakthrough that will offer cheaper protection against one of the most common cancers in women.

The Serum Institute of India on Thursday announced that it had developed the country's first preventive vaccine against cervical cancer, with the launch expected by December.

The vaccine prevents infection by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that are associated with nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer cells are shown under a microscope. The disease was the fourth most common type of cancer among women worldwide in 2020, UN figures show. Photo: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Cervical cancer is the second most prevalent cancer among women in India, government figures show, and was the fourth most common among women worldwide in 2020, with an estimated 604,000 new cases and 342,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

Three HPV vaccines have been available worldwide, which reduce the risk of cervical cancers by 62 to 100 per cent.

However, the cheapest costs about 12,000 rupees ($150) for three doses — more than India's monthly per capita income in 2020-21.

The Serum Institute said its Cervavac vaccine would be the world's cheapest, helping India to become self-sufficient in preventing the disease.

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Pune-based biopharmaceuticals company, said on Thursday that the vaccine would cost "in the range of 200-400 rupees [$2.50-$5.00], but the final price has yet to be decided".

The vaccine is effective against HPV types 16 and 18, which account for about 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases worldwide, as well as types 6 and 11.

Cervavac is scheduled to be launched by December, starting with the Indian market, and the company is aiming to produce 200 million doses in the next two years, he said.

The vaccine will be administered by injection in two doses among girls aged 9 to 14 and three doses for women and girls between 15 and 26.

Dr Rama Joshi, head of the Gynae-Oncology and Robotic Surgery Department at Fortis Cancer Institute in Gurgaon, near New Delhi, said the vaccine would be available to most people, including those in rural areas.

“The vaccine is much cheaper than the presently available HPV vaccines, hence it will have wider coverage leading to greater impact on cervical cancer prevention,” she told The National.

“Easy availability of this vaccine will provide a larger database for researchers to focus their studies on various aspects of cervical cancer prevention.”

The Serum Institute is a global leader in vaccine production and was among the first to mass-manufacture the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19, distributed under the name "Covishield" in India.

It has produced an estimated two billion shots of Covishield, the majority of them used in India’s mammoth Covid-19 vaccination programme that reached nearly 2.15 billion doses this month.

Updated: September 02, 2022, 11:36 AM