Updated on 14 May 2013
Has the life science industry learnt from previous flu outbreaks? Is the industry better prepared this time?
During March 2013, the world woke up to yet another dreaded bird flu attack that infected humans through poultry. Two months have gone by and biopharma majors across the world have begun preparations to develop a vaccine for this new strain of virus, labeled H7N9, which has killed a quarter of the 129 people it infected.
Avian Influenza A or H7N9, which was detected in China during March this year, spread from Shanghai and affected five other Chinese cities by the end of April. According to the WHO, it has so far infected 129 people, killed 31 people and has managed to travel to Taiwan, which has also reported infection cases.
Many companies have tested the strains that has been made available by the Chinese health department through the World Health Organization (WHO). Although these firms claim that the vaccine is ready, issues such as mass production, swift availability in affected regions of the world and concerns related to intellectual rights over the development process are still acting as hurdles towards effective prevention of H7N9.
"The individuals involved in WHO's Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) network look at the viruses and then determine which is the most appropriate strain to use for development of potential vaccines. Once such candidate vaccine viruses are available, it will be announced by the WHO and be made accessible to all vaccine manufacturers worldwide. That is now happening for H7N9. The vaccine itself is made by the companies and is regulated by relevant national authorities and not by the WHO," a senior WHO official informed BioSpectrum.
Vaccine majors like Australia-based CSL, US-based Greffex, Chinese biopharmaceutical giant Sinovac Biotech and others such as Adimmune Corporation from Taiwan are trying to cut down the timeline required for vaccine manufacturing. Being the first company that bagged regulatory approval for swine flu vaccine in 2009, Sinovac Biotech from China is currently in the preparation stage. The company has an annual production capacity of about 30-to-40 million doses of flu vaccine and claims that it will be ready with its first batch of vaccines for commercial use by late July.