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The race against pandemic flu

October 29, 2009
Panelists at this morning’s Therapeutic Workshop, “Predicting a Frontrunner in the Race Against Pandemic Flu” had many valuable insights into this year’s flu pandemic, how it has compared to past pandemics, and how it will shape vaccine manufacturing in the years to come.

According to Dr. Tomás Aragón, Executive Director at the Center for Infectious Disease & Emergency Readiness, “Virulence [of H1N1] is no worse than the regular flu, but a larger risk pool, consisting of pregnant women and younger people, means that there’s higher levels of infection.”

Additionally, Dr. Joseph Miller of the CDC remarked that “the amount of flu we have seen in October is equal to the levels we typically see at the peak of the flu season in the winter.”

Why the hold-up on vaccine delivery?  One big problem has been manufacturing and distribution difficulties.  George Kemble, PhD, with MedImmune remarked,

“There is room for new vaccines, but it’s not easy.  There is a lot of room for the market to grow.”

What does the future look like?  According to Kemble, one option is to move out of the 40 year old technology of using eggs as a means of producing vaccines, which limits not only the amount of vaccine that can be produced but the population which can receive it, and into the use of cell culture production.

Another option is a universal vaccine, which as describe by panelist J. Joseph Kim of Inovio Biomedical Corporation, “would combine the various dominant strains of past flu infections into one vaccine that could be used for multiple years, allowing physicians to stock up on doses each year.”  Such vaccines are currently in pre-clinical trials.