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Dow University launches locally produced anti-rabies vaccine to address shortage

By M Waqar Bhatti
March 17, 2024
The Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) building can be seen in this image. — Facebook/Dow University of Health Sciences/File
The Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) building can be seen in this image. — Facebook/Dow University of Health Sciences/File

In a significant stride towards reducing dependency on Indian vaccine imports, the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) has launched its own anti-rabies vaccine (ARV), namely DowRab, locally manufactured with imported raw materials, officials disclosed on Saturday.

“The Dow Institute of Health Sciences (DILS) of the Dow University has successfully produced the first batch of ARV now available in the local market. We have named it DowRab and commenced its commercial production at our Ojha campus,” revealed Prof Saeed Quraishy, the DUHS vice chancellor (VC).

Each year, approximately a million people fall victim to stray dog bites in Pakistan, resulting in an estimated 5,000-6,000 deaths due to rabies. The National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad reports that Pakistan requires over 2 million doses of ARV annually, and a majority of these are imported from India.

At the moment, Pakistan is facing a severe shortage of ARV due to conflict over pricing. Importers claim that due to devaluation of the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar, prices of vaccine and other biological products have to be increased but the regulatory authorities are not willing to adjust the prices.

Prof Quraishy maintained that after years of research and regulatory hurdles, they initiated the production of DowRab whose initial batch of 30,000 doses had been handed over to a marketing company for nationwide distribution. "In a few weeks, we anticipate receiving raw materials to produce an additional 170,000 ARV doses, sourced from China," he added.

Pakistan currently grapples with a 70 per cent shortage of ARV. "Currently, we rely on raw materials from China, but we are striving for complete local vaccine production," Prof Quraishy emphasised.

Rabies is predominantly transmitted through dog bites. In 2023 alone, Sindh recorded 200,000 cases of rabies according to data from Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC).

Prof Quraishy announced the signing of a letter of interest (LOI) with Muller & Phipps Pakistan Private Limited (M&P) for the launch of DowRab in Pakistan. This collaboration aims to combat the deadly rabies disease, with the M&P facilitating marketing and distribution.

The DUHS VC mentioned that the complete course of DowRab would be available for Rs1,500. He added that plans were under way to launch immunoglobulin in the next phase that is administered immediately after a dog bite to prevent rabies transmission.