Mainland drug for encephalitis will be cheaper alternative Hopes are high that a mainland-manufactured vaccine for Japanese encephalitis will soon gain international recognition, providing a cheaper alternative for Asia where the disease is endemic, according to a University of Hong Kong scientist. Earlier this month a five-year-old boy became the fourth victim of Japanese encephalitis in Hong Kong this year. He is now in stable condition in hospital. The university's Clinical Trials Centre is assessing the vaccine to see if it meets international standards and can gain World Health Organisation approval. A team recently came back from the vaccine factory in Chengdu where it examined clinical data and assessed the manufacturer's capability. Gillis Heller, assistant professor responsible for the centre's programme development and fund-raising, believes producing and licensing the Chinese-manufactured vaccine will be a first for the mainland. It will allow developing and poorer nations to buy vaccines at a lower cost. The team was close to vouching for the vaccine's safety and efficacy, he said. 'I should say it is a lot further along than an ordinary vaccine in terms of our examination of safety and efficacy, and the ability of the factory to produce in an internationally acceptable fashion,' Dr Heller said. The vaccine was developed on the mainland in the 1980s. Because the vaccine has not passed US, European or WHO qualifications, it cannot be licensed or sold internationally. 'The cost of qualifying the vaccine with WHO now is very high, leaving China to produce the vaccine for domestic use only and forcing other countries to use an expensive, internationally licensed Japanese encephalitis vaccine that was developed in Osaka,' Dr Heller said. Most of the victims of Japanese encephalitis are children under 15. Almost half of the survivors are left with a long-term disability, including paralysis, seizures and mental retardation. Hong Kong's Department of Health has advised travellers to endemic areas to get vaccinated but does not plan routine childhood immunisation because Japanese encephalitis only occurs here sporadically.