Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Australian Company Claims Vaccine For Bird Flu Will Be "Ready In Weeks"

A report here that is a little light on the details, but makes the broad claim that Australian drug company, CSL, has developed a new vaccine that will "prevent deaths from bird flu."

CSL makes the claim after examining data from recent clinical trials.

The vaccine is said to be "safe" and "well tolerated" in adults under the age of 65.

No mention is made of its presumed effectiveness in children and teenagers, who appear to be in the upper rankings of those most vulnerable to death from H5N1 infections.

Neither is there any explanation for how the vaccine will be effective in a virus that has not yet finished mutating, nor mutated into a form that may be readily passed between humans.

You can create a vaccine for a form of avian influenza that killed a cluster of family members in Indonesia. But there is no guarantee that the exact same form of the virus will be responsible for deaths once the H5N1 virus has mixed with a human flu virus (or another animal flu virus) to form the easily transmissable version that could begin a human pandemic.

But this claim is the mightiest one of all :

The company says the vaccine can prevent both humans and animals from dying of bird flu.

That certainly sounds like something new, and we may well see that the vaccine will get far greater use, to begin with, in Australian poultry farms.

From ABC News Australia :

CSL will ask the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) next month to check the drug's safety, before registering it on the Australian market.

CSL chief scientific officer Dr Andrew Cuthbertson says the vaccine is an important breakthrough.

"If called upon by our Federal Government, CSL can respond here in Australia with a vaccine that I believe should be safe and should produce the type of immune responses that will underpin protection in the event of a pandemic," he said.

Health Minister Tony Abbott says it is a welcome advance in the fight against bird flu.

"...we have funded CSL to bring their vaccine to this stage and I'm very pleased to learn that they have a vaccine that they can now take to the TGA for registration."

Mr Abbott says the vaccine would become a big part of the Government's bird flu plan.

"There are continuing reports of significant human cases in Indonesia and if the TGA does register this vaccine that obviously will give us an important new weapon in the fight against bird flu if it ever does emerge," he said.

The TGA says it has agreed to begin processing CSL's application based on preliminary test results to try to speed up the assessment process.

Normally an application can only be processed once all documentation has been received, but CSL has committed to providing further information as it becomes available.

The TGA has agreed to the rolling review process, saying it recognises the potential importance of a pandemic vaccine.

The fast-tracking of any vaccine is cause enough for concern. There simply isn't enough information yet to determine whether or not the CSL claims are credible.

But, of course, it will be good news if these claims are proven to be true.

Australia's health minister Tony Abbott claims that the fast-tracking of the CSL application by the TGA is not due to any increased threat of a human pandemic, though there is reason enough to presume that Mr Abbott is very concerned with the problems facing Indonesia at the moment in battling the spread of the virus amongst poultry, and now dogs and cats.

Australian Researchers To Begin Major Flu Testing Program On Migratory Birds

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