MEM INST OSWALDO CRUZ, RIO DE JANEIRO, 110(1) February 2015
PAGES: 114-124 DOI: 10.1590/0074-02760140346 Full paper
Historical review of clinical vaccine studies at Oswaldo Cruz Institute and Oswaldo Cruz Foundation - technological development issues

Reinaldo de Menezes Martins+, Cristina de Albuquerque Possas, Akira Homma

Conselho Político e Estratégico, Bio-Manguinhos-Fiocruz, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brasil

Abstract

This paper presents, from the perspective of technological development and production, the results of an investigation examining 61 clinical studies with vaccines conducted in Brazil between 1938-2013, with the participation of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC) and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz). These studies have been identified and reviewed according to criteria, such as the kind of vaccine (viral, bacterial, parasitic), their rationale, design and methodological strategies. The results indicate that IOC and Fiocruz have accumulated along this time significant knowledge and experience for the performance of studies in all clinical phases and are prepared for the development of new vaccines products and processes. We recommend national policy strategies to overcome existing regulatory and financing constraints.

Clinical studies are crucial for the development and registration of new products and constitute today a structured process, mandated by strict legislation involving a growing number of participants, in a stepwise strategy.

The Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC) and the other technical units which constitute the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) are recognised as very important institutions for basic science and biological and technological research on tropical diseases in Brazil. These institutions have a long tradition of clinical studies which have proven to be vitally connected to the prevention of infectious diseases of public health importance for Brazil and other countries. In this paper, we review and analyse these studies, occurring over a period exceeding seven decades, from the perspective of technological development (TD). The understanding, in a historical sense, of the evolutionary stages of these clinical studies will hopefully provide a better understanding of the processes that were involved and may help policy and decision-makers to conceive of new alternatives and create possibilities for the design of new studies in the future.

 

MATERIALS AND METHODS

For the selection of the clinical studies we adopted the following criteria for inclusion: (i) studies conducted in human beings; (ii) prospective; (iii) vaccination as the basic intervention; (iv) longitudinal and individual follow-up of participants; (v) published in scientific medical journals; (vi) conceived and conducted according to ethical and legal criteria for clinical research in human beings, with tolerance to the absence of formal ethical and regulatory evaluations regarding the older studies; (vii) conducted with participation of at least one unit or professional of Fiocruz/IOC.

These restrictive criteria, besides being conceptually acceptable, met the requirement to limit the scope of the research within an acceptable range. Studies which did not meet these criteria were excluded. These included retrospective studies, clinical-epidemiological studies, seroepidemiological studies, pharmacovigilance studies and observational studies. Although the latter did not fit into the classical model of clinical studies, some of them could be classified as clinical studies, in a broader sense definition.

For studies conducted at the origin of IOC, which are outstanding and part of its history, these criteria were not strictly applied, which is justifiable, considering that the legislation on clinical studies came later. However, if they are not formally perfect, they have been conducted ethically, with the best science and methodology available at the time.

The search for papers was done by databases, including PubMed, from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health, United States of America, and LILACS, the Latin-American database from BIREME-Regional Library of Medicine, from Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO). However, most papers were found through personal archives, consultations with colleagues, some reference books on the history of vaccines (Benchimol 2001, Artenstein 2010, Plotkin 2011) and other means, in a process with considerable degree of serendipity in chance encounters.

To recover original papers, we used, besides PubMed and LILACS, the SciELO database, Capes Periodicals Gateway and the libraries of the National School of Public Health, Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz and Mourisco Castle. Photocopies were also obtained from the Hinari Programme, from WHO and Oxford Journals.

We use terms "clinical trial" and "clinical study" interchangeably.

The period of study extended up to the year 2013 (Martins 2014).

 

RESULTS

Tables I, II, III and IV show, for each study, its rationale and its basic findings. Table V shows the number of clinical studies by kind of vaccine (viral, bacterial or parasitic) and its utilisation [commercial or by the National Immunisations Program (NIP)].

 

 

DISCUSSION

The clinical studies with vaccines under the scope of IOC and Fiocruz, besides their relevance to the public health of Brazil and many other developing countries, have contributed to the institutional TD.

These technical advances built institutional knowledge and skills in vaccine thermostability, new freeze-drying formulation, use of certified inputs, improvement of quality control methodologies and the skills to incorporate new products through technology transfers, which resulted in scientific breakthroughs and have been landmarks of Fiocruz history.

Examples of tech transfer include the yellow fever (YF) vaccine (Rockefeller Institute), the polysaccharidic AC meningococcal vaccine (Institut Mérieux), the poliomyelitis and measles vaccines (BIKEN Institute), the Haemophilus influenzae Type b (Hib) vaccine, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) and rotavirus vaccines [GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)] and shortly the measles/mumps/rubella/varicella (MMRV) vaccine (also with GSK). Besides leading to the introduction of new vaccines into the NIP, in a relatively short time, technology transfers of these vaccines have made possible the creation, expansion and improvement of new platforms, production and laboratories and the creation of a qualified workforce that is now a most valuable asset of Fiocruz. The positive consequences of these innovative processes have been outstanding and should not be minimised. Moreover, transfer of technologies has been feasible because of the intrinsic capacity of the institution for absorbing, in a relatively short span of time, the newly involved technologies.

The clinical studies of measles vaccines were conducted to evaluate the successful technology transfer and implement the regular use of a vaccine to counteract one of the main causes of child mortality in Brazil (Puffer & Serrano 1973). The technology of production of this vaccine was obtained thanks to the Brazil-Japan Cooperation Agreement, which involved the participation of BIKEN Laboratory from Osaka University, with Japan International Cooperation Agency and Funding Authority for Studies and Projects as intermediaries. This agreement made possible the development of new projects, which included: (i) an improvement and adaptation of laboratories for the production of viral antigens and formulation, filling and lyophilisation in industrial scale, (ii) the provision of industrial equipment, (iii) "on the bench" training in Japan and the beginning of production operations and (iv) the clinical studies in the states of Pernambuco and Pará. This project gave Bio-Manguinhos the opportunity to build the infrastructure for industrial production to meet today's good manufacturing practices requirements. This required new organisational structures including independent departments for production, quality control and management which, in a step by step process, resulted in the provision of good quality vaccines for the NIP. Because of this successful activity, Bio-Manguinhos is now prepared to provide the MMR and MMRV vaccines to the NIP.

The clinical studies with poliomyelitis vaccines and many additional seroepidemiological studies resulted in changes and improvements in vaccine composition and eventually resulted in the elimination of this disease in Brazil and many other Latin American countries.

As with the measles vaccine, the oral polio vaccine (OPV) technology was obtained under the umbrella of the Brazil-Japan Cooperation Agreement. The technology transfer for this vaccine came through the Japanese Poliomyelitis Research Institute. These actions included redesigns and upgrades of facilities, provision of equipment, "on the bench" training within production laboratories, quality control and neurovirulence testing in nonhuman primates. The creation of this highly qualified group in 1982 allowed Bio-Manguinhos to take the responsibility for the quality control testing of the OPV vaccine used in the national routine immunisation program or in mass campaigns. Later, this responsibility was transferred to the National Institute for Quality Control. Another great contribution from Bio-Manguinhos was the formulation improvements of OPV vaccine, including a doubling of the dose of type 3 OPV, required to control poliomyelitis outbreaks in Northeast Brazil. This formulation change was accomplished in just two weeks after the decision was made. The highly satisfactory results led the PAHO to extend this recommendation to all Latin American countries and, afterwards, WHO recommended the use of the same formulation for all countries.

The clinical studies with diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis/Hib vaccine drove the technology transfer for the Hib portion of the vaccine. This resulted in the introduction of this vaccine into the routine vaccination schedule, which, in a very short time, drastically reduced the incidence of Hib meningitis.

Table V shows that the clinical studies with viral and bacterial vaccines led to the licensing of these essential vaccines. Almost half these studies were conducted with YF vaccine - a demonstration of the importance of this vaccine for Brazil and the world and the need to improve it, in order to reduce its serious adverse events.

In contrast to the other clinical studies, the ones for parasitic diseases have not led to the licensure of any vaccine. Due to genetic variation of parasites, the epitope multiplicity and the complexity of anti-infectious mechanisms that are very different from virus and bacteria, it has been a big challenge to develop vaccines for parasitic diseases. Here, there is a need for new and innovative approaches. For malaria, there have been attempts to block transmission from the mosquito using vaccines targeting the sexual stages of Plasmodium falciparum (Biswas et al. 2013). In the case of leishmaniasis, there may be a combination of strategies, for example, antigens in nanoparticles (Santos et al. 2013) or a combination of treatment and immunotherapy (Machado-Pinto et al. 2002, Nascimento et al. 2010). Perhaps the traditional approach for highly effective preventive vaccines will have to be modified to include more modest but even so important objectives, such as disease attenuation or disease blocking transmission strategies.

The difficulties for the development of vaccines for some genetically unstable viruses, such as human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis C, underscore the need to explore new technologies. These would include the presentation of antigens in virosomes and nanoparticles, chimeric vaccines, new adjuvants and new ways for delivering vaccines, such as in patches or microneedles. Other vaccines need improvement, such as for tuberculosis (TB), which needs better protection, and for pertussis and YF, which need improved safety.

Although some of the achievements have been remarkable, we should recognise that innovations at IOC and Fiocruz have been incremental and did not change paradigms (Kuhn 1970). The innovation which results in technological leaps is a process that begins many years before. It involves many groups working in cooperation on many different fields - microbiology, immunology, biochemistry, genetics. It requires the engagement of a critical mass of technological and human resources, a long term financial support and strong coordination and management.

The results presented here indicate that, over the last several years, there have been considerable quantitative and qualitative advances in the development of clinical studies under the scope of IOC and Fiocruz. These demonstrate that clinical studies no longer constitute a bottleneck for innovation, in terms of local capacity. However, regulatory and financial constraints still remain. There are also regulatory and operational issues that need to be addressed, in order to streamline processes without loss of safety and quality. Slow decision-making and excessive centralisation of regulatory and ethical processes may, in fact, decrease the quality of studies and may result in loss of opportunities in a competitive world.

It should be noted that, although not reviewed here, several clinical studies with meningococcal vaccines have been conducted at Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz, of which three have been Phase I studies and published in congress annals (Martins et al. 2009a, b, 2010).

Although several new innovative vaccines are in development, their complexity is increasing and will certainly require creativity and scientific and technological capacity to achieve a final product.

It should also be stressed that if we have been weak in technological innovation so far in Brazil, we have been innovators on the ethical concept that vaccines are a right of citizenship and that all people should have free access to them, as to basic sanitary services and education. The vaccine schedule of the Ministry of Health has significantly expanded and now includes all vaccines used by developed countries (Martins et al. 2013a). Moreover, there is a clear perception that vaccines have an excellent cost/benefit relationship and that they contribute to economic development (Bloom et al. 2005).

The contribution of vaccines for the improvement of health conditions of the Brazilian population is evident and outstanding. The infectious diseases targeted by vaccination (except TB) are under control. The Brazilian producers of vaccines made these conquests possible and the clinical studies with vaccines have been an essential part of this process.

The review of clinical studies under the scope of IOC and Fiocruz within the period of this study indicates the strength and potential of IOC and Fiocruz to conduct all phases of clinical studies with vaccines. However, the innovation component is still weak and should be strengthened. To achieve this objective as well as to accelerate the TD of new and innovative vaccines, we suggest: (i) the urgent development of a new legal and institutional framework for Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz, allowing flexibility and capacity to produce and to operate in the market. It is necessary to conciliate social commitment with speeding up of processes and entrepreneurial capacity, which are essential to industrial activity and technological competitiveness; (ii) to stimulate intra and inter institutional partnerships and the exchange of personnel, nationally and internationally; (iii) to stimulate group and personal cooperation through meetings and common projects; (iv) to promote public-private partnerships, leading to technology transfers, to search for common development of new products and processes; (v) to stimulate innovation and creativity; (vi) to attract new talent, creating an inspiring and receptive atmosphere and environment to innovation and creativity; (vii) to search for expertise, wherever it may reside, to solve the technological and organisational problems of Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz; (viii) to increase the governmental financing for clinical studies and to stimulate the non-governmental financing; (ix) to stimulate excellence, at all levels.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

To José Rodrigues Coura, Martha Cecilia Suarez-Mutiz, Luiz Antonio Bastos Camacho, Jaime Larry Benchimol, Gabriel Oselka and Marilda Siqueira, for their valuable suggestions, and to the Bio-Manguinhos Clinical Advisory Unit and Oswaldo Cruz Home/Fiocruz.

 

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+ Corresponding author: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Received 22 September 2014
Accepted 5 December 2014

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