Shape of things to come

Published : Apr 11, 2008 00:00 IST

THE government has termed it a project of national importance. Conceived as an integrated vaccine complex, the proposed vaccine park at Chengalpattu near Chennai is expected not only to meet the countrys needs of the six primary vaccines included under the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) but also to produce several new-generation vaccines and function as a state-of-the-art hub for research and development and technology incubators.

That would seem to be far too ambitious an undertaking for Hindustan Latex Ltd. (HLL), a public sector enterprise of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoH&FW) that has little experience in vaccine science and technology and whose focus has hitherto been chiefly on consumer products.

Yet HLL, which is emerging as a successful enterprise under the Ministry, has been identified to execute this project. In fact, it is proposed to be a part of a larger project that will include a Medipark, a medical enterprises infrastructure for the manufacture of health-care devices and kits of international standards, and medical and diagnostic equipment such as X-ray, ultrasound, and so on, that will be set up in the public-private-partnership (PPP) mode with an investment of about Rs.500 crore. The vaccine complex alone is estimated to cost around Rs.160 crore.

An area of 439 acres (177.7 hectares) has been acquired near the Central Leprosy Training and Research Institute (CLTRI) of the Ministry at Chengalpattu for the entire project, which includes 10 acres (4 ha) that will be given to the CLTRI for its expansion and 132 acres (53.4 ha) on the nearby hillocks. Following a directive from the Ministry, HLL took possession of the allotted land on January 11 except for the hillocks, which are yet to be handed over. The vaccine complex will come up on 100 acres (40 ha) and the Medipark on 197 acres (79.7 ha). The transfer of land will be on a 99-year lease.

The original plan had included an area of 50 acres (20 ha) for relocating the Pasteur Institute of India (PII) and 47 acres (19 ha) for locating other vaccine units in the park. In the revised plan, however, this idea seems to have been shelved.

With HLL being the sole unit to undertake vaccine production, it has requested the Ministry for about Rs.60 crore in the first phase (2008-09) for setting up vaccine units. The company has also requested the Ministry for the grant of the remaining sum of about Rs.100 crore. Meanwhile, bids have been invited to appoint project management consultants for the vaccine complex as well as the Medipark.

Under the current plan, the vaccine complex will comprise the following elements: one wing for the UIP vaccines DPT, TT, DT, BCG and measles; a separate wing for the new-generation vaccines for hepatitis A & B, Hib, JE, rabies (ARV) and combination vaccines; and a third wing for common facilities such as vaccine R&D, testing laboratoies, an animal house and incubators.

A Vaccine Advisory Committee (VAC) has been set up to assist HLL on technology-related issues. Ironically enough, R.V. Kalyanaraman, a former director of PII, heads it. According to Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, technology for the UIP vaccines may be sourced from the three government institutions CRI, Kasauli; the PII; and the BCG Vaccine Laboratory, Chennai that have ceased production as of January 16. HLL has sought technology transfer from government institutions too for vaccines for which there exist indigenous capability. We will have better-quality vaccines for the UIP at the same price and we will also be in a position to export, the Minister said.

Interestingly, the UIP vaccines do not include the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is currently imported entirely even though the country had the indigenous capability for it until the late 1970s, or the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

As for the non-UIP vaccines, Ramadoss said HLL was in the process of identifying technology providers for those vaccines for which India did not have the technologies, and global agencies involved in the area of vaccines, such as IVI, IAVI and GAVI, were likely to be involved in the process. He added that the WHO support would be sought for ensuring technology transfer.

Technology acquisition will not be much of a problem with the involvement of these global agencies, he said. It is also learnt that the Minister had taken a team to Europe and the North and South Americas to locate potential technology sources.

The entire vaccine complex is expected to be completed by 2011 and HLL expects the UIP units to be commissioned by February 2010.

R. Ramachandran
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