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22 September, 2020 05:58:07 PM

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Coronavirus and vaccine, calculation of plus and minus

If a vaccine can be developed first then the world market can be captured. Scientists are now competing against one another. Same was the situation 200 years ago when quinine was discovered
Chinmay Prasun Biswas
Coronavirus and vaccine, calculation of plus and minus

Devastating coronavirus has claimed 969,362 lives all over the world up to 22nd September. Amid this pandemic, efforts to discover a vaccine are also ongoing.

No doubt it is a humanitarian approach but it has an opposite picture also. If a vaccine can be developed first then the world market can be captured. Scientists are now competing against one another. Same was the situation 200 years ago when quinine was discovered.      
Bark of cinchona was indiscriminately used as medicine of any fever during 17th and 18th century. French chemists Piere Joseph Peletiere and Joseph Binem first discovered varieties of cinchona during 1820s. Through research they found that yellow, gray and red barks contain high quality alkaloid but yellow bark was the best. During 18th century the idea of marketing haunted chemical research. Chemists and businessmen became equally interested. Manufacturers of medicine became researchers turning their shops into laboratories. The only target was to capture the world market first and enjoy monopoly of quinine business. Francois Mazendi, a French physiologist wrote a few books in 1820s which directly encouraged medicine manufacturers. Like quinine his books also became good sellers with many editions and translations.  
Fir and Qunzi, a renowned organisation started selling quinine at $16 per ounce, very costly indeed in consideration of time value of money. In 1823 a company of Philadelphia claimed that they have already prepared quinine from cinchona for commercial sale. A physician of Mussouri started selling quinine tablet in his own name. Look Howard, a retailer of medicine in London, established a quinine factory in 1830. Another was established in Rome. Huge capital was invested in producing quinine throughout Europe and America.          
In a research paper in 1839, renowned botanist William Dawson Looker expressed his optimism about bright future of quinine trade. He mentioned that all uncertainties regarding cinchona trade had been overcome. Chemical test can ensure quality of alkaloid and quinine. Due to huge demand adulterated quinine was also marketed in some places because any cinchona, high or low, was considered as the source of quinine. As an outcome of publicity from physicians, demand of quinine rapidly increased. Since 1820s scholars and business lords followed the same way. Physician John Sapington acquired huge wealth through selling quinine tablet.
Howard family of London held the helm of quinine trade throughout the 19th century. Though a manufacturer of medicine, Look Howard had a keen interest in meteorology. He was awarded fellowship of Royal Society in 1821 but leaving everything in 1823 he claimed that he could extract valuable alkaloid even from inferior quality cinchona. With a view to capturing the market John Eliot Howard established a quinine factory and claimed their quinine as the best in England. Not only for malaria, a belief developed among common people that quinine can cure all diseases. Utilising this opportunity properly different countries rushed to capture the market of quinine by any means.                 
Same situation is being repeated after 200 years regarding Covid-19 vaccine. Researchers worldwide are working relentlessly to develop a vaccine. Certainly it is a philanthropic initiative but the point of business (please read – plundering profit) is very much dominant. Experts estimate that if everything goes smoothly, successful development of a fast-track vaccine will take approximately 12-18 months. Moreover, huge cost of research requires partnership. Coronavirus has paved a good opportunity of public private partnership. Operation Warp Speed is such a joint platform of several departments of the US federal government. Under its supervision the US National Institute of Health has taken more than 18 biopharmaceutical companies as partners to expedite development of coronavirus vaccine. The target is to market low-cost Covid-19 vaccines as early as possible but the way is long, expensive and time consuming.  
Ahead of releasing any medicine in market human trial is necessary for ensuring safety, efficacy, durability and side effect. For any trial volunteering is essential. It is expensive also because volunteering requires payment. Kate Bingham, chief of the UK's vaccine taskforce, said, “These trials are safe, please sign up. The quicker we get the clinical trials enrolled, vaccinated and get the results, the quicker we can get a vaccine." Dr. Daniel Hoft, director of the Saint Louis University Centre for Vaccine Development., said, “What you are doing is providing compensation for time and trouble.” “If the money seems extraordinarily attractive to you, think again,” Arthur L. Caplan, a bioethicist, said. “You don’t want to let compensation blind, you need to pay attention to the risks.” These appeals are very reasonable but implementation requires huge amount of money.   
Payment for volunteers may vary from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. BBC News informs that more than 100,000 people have signed up to participate in a trial but researchers need more enlistment to speed up their efforts for a safe and effective vaccine. They are particularly looking for more volunteers from the high-priority groups disproportionately affected by the virus belonging to ethnic minorities or aged over 65. Moreover, 44,000 volunteers will randomly receive Moderna’s experimental vaccine in the first late-stage trial, question arises that if any volunteer is adversely affected by an experimental vaccine then who will compensate? Normally, it is the company but actually in some cases insurance company or the US government’s pandemic relief fund adjusts those costs.
More than 25 (including Russian, Chinese and Indian) companies of the world are in the race of developing vaccines. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the White House Taskforce on coronavirus, has warned that there is no guarantee that the ongoing research efforts will produce a successful vaccine within 12-18 months. Bangladesh is also in the race though not as a researcher but as a consumer, India, a country of 1300 million people, is a huge market. Same is the case with China.  Cost of vaccine has not yet been fixed but huge possibility of earning profit is certain. Meanwhile, Sputnik V developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow has been approved by Russian government recently as the world’s first corona vaccine whereas experts have raised concern about its safety and efficacy as it has not yet entered  3rd phase 3 clinical trial. The WHO chief has warned against being hectic in approving a vaccine because it may be more harmful than useful.

Entire world is anxiously expecting a vaccine which is not yet ready. The US government has declared an investment contract of around $ 2 billion with Pfizer and Bio N Tech, a German biotechnology company, for 100 million doses by December at $ 20 per dose subject to approval of Food and Drug Administration. The number may rise up to 600 doses. Amount of profit will not be ignorable. Irrespective of origin, all the companies are rushing towards the same target of earning profit.  

The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes.           

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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