November 17, 2005

Cuba considering making bird flu vaccine

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Thursday it was considering
researching a vaccine against bird flu, warning that antiviral
drugs available today are barely enough to protect "the rich
people in rich nations" from a pandemic.

Communist Cuba's biotech industry, one of the most advanced
in the Third World, has developed dozens of new drugs,
including the world's only vaccine against meningitis B and
experimental cancer vaccines.

"We have taken the first steps to think about a possible
vaccine for animals and humans," the deputy director of Cuba's
Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Dr. Carlos
Borroto, said.

"We don't want to raise expectations because we are still
studying this," he told reporters. Cuba has asked the World
Health Organization for strains of the virus to begin work.

Borroto said only two antiviral drugs made by multinational
pharmaceutical firms had proved effective for bird flu, but
were not being produced in sufficient quantities.

"If the pandemic occurs in the short term, there will only
be enough drugs for the rich people in rich nations, not even
for all the people in rich nations," he said.

The antiviral drugs available are Tamiflu, known
generically as oseltamivir and made by Roche AG and Relenza,
known generically as zanamivir and made by GlaxoSmithKline.