Sunday, March 8, 2009

Won't somebody think of the ferrets?

Of relevance to both last week and next week is news this week that scientists in Hong Kong and the United States have developed an experimental H5N1 bird flu vaccine for people by inserting five key components of the H5N1 virus into the smallpox vaccine. Why smallpox?

The smallpox vaccine is very cheap, has a long shelf-life of several years and does not require highly sophisticated laboratories, making it easier for poorer countries to produce.

"Smallpox production capacity has gone down but many countries have the technology and the expertise to do it, and if necessary, it can be very quickly scaled up."
"But for other strategies (of producing H5N1 vaccines), it is not possible to rapidly set up manufacturing plants all over the world as they require very specialised plants."

However, it will take at least a few more years before the vaccine would be ready for the market. It must be tested next in ferrets, then monkeys, before human clinical trials can be carried out.

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