Drug makers scramble to create swine flu vaccine

5/25/2009

NEW YORK —With more than 5,000 cases worldwide and 61 deaths at the time of publication, H1N1 influenza has caused a pandemic of fear before it even has had a chance to cause a pandemic of illness due to the unusually young age of many of its victims, the impending flu season in the Southern Hemisphere—in which the virus could mutate into a more virulent form—and the lack of a vaccine.

Some drug companies, however, are cranking up their pipelines in an effort to create vaccines and treatments.

Baxter International said earlier this month that it has become part of a pandemic vaccine supply group set up by the World Health Organization. The company has received approval from the European Medicines Agency for the mock-up pandemic vaccine Celvapan, allowing for fast-track approval once the company creates a version of Celvapan that contains the A/H1N1 strain.

Based in Rockville, Md., biotech company Novavax takes a different approach to flu vaccines. In March, the Journal of Virology published a preclinical study of a vaccine from the company that uses virus-like particles developed from the 1918 Spanish influenza strain, also a form of H1N1 influenza, finding that it could protect against both the Spanish flu and the H5N1 avian flu. Using this method, the company said it could produce a vaccine in 10 to 12 weeks rather than four to six months.

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