June 24, 2009

US Funds Research For New Flu Vaccine Production

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that a U.S. company was awarded a $35 million contract to develop a flu vaccine using insect cell technology.

"The technology has advanced in recent years to a point that we believe it could help meet a surge in demand for US-based vaccine for seasonal and pandemic flu," said U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The A(H1N1) virus, commonly referred to as swine flu, emerged in Mexico in April and has killed 231 people worldwide while infecting more than 52,000 people in 100 countries.

The World Health Organization declared the flu a pandemic on June 11.

Connecticut-based Protein Sciences Corporation was awarded the contract to continue their development of flu vaccines. 

According to the health department, the contract may be extended for another five years, totaling a cost of $147 million.

Currently, the majority of the world's flu vaccine is produced using chicken eggs.  The method severely limits production capacity.

Protein Sciences is developing a new way to create flu vaccines. In their new process, caterpillar cells are infected with a baculovirus which carries the gene for hemagluttinin, a molecule that sticks out of the surface of the influenza virus.

"Using this method, vaccine candidates, clinical investigational lots, and commercial-scale vaccine production may be available faster than by using traditional vaccine production methods," said the health department in a statement.

"Because the basic cells can be frozen and stored indefinitely, manufacturing large quantities of a vaccine is also faster using this recombinant technology."


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