Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Ganesh Singh of Hilleman Labs contributed the winning entry to C66

Ganesh Singh of Hilleman Labs contributed the winning entry to "Challenge 66",
an attempt in understanding survival at extremely impoverished conditions.
His ingenuity struck an innovative cord, as the blog explains below.

Challenge 66 was about survival. It was about living your life, when you are down to the wire, with only 66 rupees in your pocket. How does one survive on just 66 rupees?? And that too for at least 3 days? That's the challenge we posed to our employees, in an event hosted by Hilleman Labs two weeks ago. 

Imagine, we told them, that you are shipwrecked on a deserted island. You are the lone survivor and you must find a way to live for at least 3 days before you can be rescued. So pack a kit, we said, that lets you survive, with not much else to go on. Be bold, be creative. That was it. Those were our instructions. 

And boy, were they creative! Amazingly, our staff came up with a dizzying variety of innovative solutions ranging from the mysterious to the mind boggling. While most purchased the expected bottles of drinking water, and packets of Parle biscuits, others were far more creative. 

Some bought small knives, others candles and matches, some camphor to pray to God, and yet others sugarcane sticks that doubled as rich sources of nutrition as well as poles to hold up tarpaulin and construct a temporary shelter. 

The range of thinking that went into the assembly of kits was truly impressive. The competition was thick. 

But the winning entry came from an unexpected staff member far removed from any doings of Vaccine R&D.  In fact, this member manages the Hilleman buildings and facilities. 

Mr. Ganesh Singh is an ex-Navy officer, dedicated to creative thought in everyday living. It is no surprise that he would know best about surviving a shipwreck on a deserted island, more than anybody else. 

Mr. Singh packed in his kit, a simple water purification system to provide sufficient drinking water for a few days. He bought a fishing line that would allow him to eat from the sea and survive for days, if not for months. He also bought flint to start a fire and some simple tools to hunt and gather.  He had a make-shift shelter that would protect him from sunstroke or from a sudden flash of lightning. 

Most impressively, Mr. Singh acquired his entire collection using just 66 rupees. He showed us how one survives on just 66 rupees, if one's life depended on it. Mr. Singh taught us innovative ideas can come from anyone. 

Of course, the big question on everyone's mind was why 66? Why not 99 or 101? Or 555? Well, the answer lies in a very simple fact. It turns out that in the world of affordable vaccines, to which Hilleman Labs is dedicated, one often hears the mantra: "a vaccine for dollar a dose".  That is, a dose of a vaccine sold for just one dollar.  This mantra has now become the cornerstone of vaccine development in poor countries, so much so that it has become the de facto expectation. We reasoned, if a vaccine could be manufactured and sold for such a low price, what does a dollar - roughly 66 rupees - really buy you these days? 

Vaccine manufacture is a rather difficult and complex process. There are many complicated steps involved and each batch of the vaccine produced must undergo a battery of rigorous tests to ensure that it is of the highest quality, and standards meeting those of the World Health Organization. Vaccine manufacturers have often expressed that with rising costs and increasing stringency in quality, control, it has become difficult to meet the demand of "a dollar a dose" vaccine. 

And yet, Challenge 66 showed us the street value of 66 rupees. Of how the common man can in fact stretch his 66 rupees a long way, especially if his survival depended on it. Mr. Singh showed us very cleverly that 66 rupees can buy you plenty, to keep you going for a few days on basic life necessities. So why should it not be possible to produce a life-saving dose of vaccine for that price? 

Indeed, we feel that the real challenge of producing low-cost vaccines is upon us. We are surrounded by very smart people. Technology is ever advancing. There must exist simple solutions that can be brought to bear in vaccine manufacture. Innovation and frugality can go hand and hand. If so, then we must continue to seek novel ways to produce safe and affordable vaccines. As the world around us stretches its resources for survival, it becomes our moral duty to provide them cheap vaccines of highest quality, so people can lead healthy, productive lives. That is exactly what Challenge 66 taught us. 
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Monday, 7 March 2016

The looming threat of Zika

Imagine a world without borders and looming enemies. The thought paints a scary imagery in the head, something one would never want to imagine ever. But who is to say that this thought could never become a reality? In fact if necessary steps aren’t taken, there is no turning your backs to the situation. The enemy in this case is the reappearance of the Zika virus.

This mosquito borne virus first was discovered in monkeys in 1947 in Uganda's Zika Forest. Up until now, the virus was reported in Africa, South Asia and Polynesia, but now it's also being found in Central and South America. A shocking number, approximately one in five people infected with the virus shows symptoms. What is even more alarming is the advice given by El Salvador’s health department, asking all women of reproductive age to delay pregnancy until 2018 due to concerns about possible birth defects linked to the virus. So far, the country disclosed it had found 492 Zika cases.

A State of Chaos

It has spread to 20 countries and not a single country has a solution. Currently there is no medication or vaccine available to treat or stop the virus. Those who are sickened with the virus, can only be provided with supportive care. According to media reports, the search for a vaccine is being led by scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch but they warn that although a vaccine could be ready for testing in two years, it may be another decade for it to be approved by regulators. Imagine what the use of a vaccine is if it cannot be administered when it’s needed the most.

The apathy of the situation has further highlighted the debacle of the vaccine market and the need for stringent measures to control such outcomes. Case in point, the Ebola crisis. Although the initial research for the Ebola vaccine was published in 2003, no concrete steps were taken. The research had to wait a decade to get noticed and it was only after the Ebola outbreak in 2014 did the US government took control and contributed more than $70M to develop the vaccine.

Beacon of Hope

Development of drugs and vaccines require financial investments and what every nation needs to ask itself is whether or not it has sufficient funding provisions for sustaining decade of vaccine targets and objectives. Added to that, another facet to analyse is efforts to keep vaccines affordable.

Mankind is the backbone for its nation and it is the duty of every authority in the country to respect and initiate necessary steps to safeguard them.
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About Me

Hilleman Laboratories is a global vaccine research & development organization focused on making affordable vaccines using innovation to address gaps that exist in low resource settings. Hilleman Labs acts as a catalyst in bridging the gap between academic research and product development by targeting novel vaccines and increasing the efficiency of existing vaccines. Know More

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