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Bird flu vaccine promising in humans

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Mar 30 (Reuters) Tests in humans of an experimental vaccine against H5N1 avian influenza (bird flu) show that the vaccine is safe and spurs the immune response needed to protect against the deadly illness. The achievement is reported in The New England Journal of Medicine this week.

Dr John J Treanor, from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, and his associates developed the vaccine, in part, by using the hemagglutinin protein, the ''H'' in the virus designation, and the neuraminidase protein, the ''N'' in the virus designation, taken from an avian flu virus that killed a boy in Vietnam in 2004. The vaccine also contains genes derived from a lab flu strain commonly used for seasonal influenza vaccines.

According to Treanor's team, tests conducted on 451 healthy adults showed that the vaccine was generally well tolerated and produced an immune response that the researchers think may protect against exposure to avian flu.

Roughly half of the volunteers who got the vaccine and a booster shot of the highest dosage of the vaccine developed infection-fighting antibodies that current data suggest would neutralize the virus.

The primary value of this vaccine, noted Dr. Anthony S.

Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is that the federal government can begin stockpiling a small amount of the vaccine before any human pandemic ever occurs.

If the virus evolves so that human-to-human transmission becomes possible, Fauci continued, ''it's likely to be different from the H5N1 strain that Dr. Treanor's team tested, but not completely different.'' Therefore, the researchers still expect some degree of protection from the current vaccine, and by having a stockpile available, first responders could ''hit the ground running'' and spur on the development of a vaccine against the evolved virus.

In a related editorial subtitled ''A Race against Time,'' Dr.

Gregory A. Poland, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, notes that the US Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health have funded studies of more than 30 candidate vaccines, the efficacy of which should be reported within the next 6 to 12 months.

In addition to the development and manufacture of candidate vaccines, he lists other strategies to prevent a pandemic, including ''synchronization among countries of regulatory approaches; the resolution of issues concerning liability and intellectual property; ensuring the efficiency of clinical trials, and the use of methods to stockpile and rapidly deploy these vaccines.'' REUTERS CH KP0935

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