Drugmakers Rush to Produce a Swine Flu Vaccine


 
 

Maria Cheng | | Sunday, June 14, 2009


LONDON -- With swine flu now an official pandemic, the race is on among drugmakers to produce a vaccine.

GlaxoSmithKline said Thursday after the World Health Organization declared a global flu epidemic that it would be ready within weeks to begin large-scale vaccine production. Sanofi-Aventis also said it had started working on its own version. On Friday, Swiss pharma giant Novartis announced it had created an experimental vaccine that has not been tested in people. Novartis' vaccine was made via a cell-based technology that may prove faster than the traditional way of making vaccines, which relies on chicken eggs.

Many rich countries like Britain, Canada and France signed contracts with pharmaceuticals long ago, guaranteeing them access to pandemic vaccine. WHO and others estimate that about 2.4 billion doses of pandemic vaccine could be available in about a year.

The likely scramble for vaccines will leave many people in poorer countries empty-handed.

So far, swine flu has been mostly detected in developed countries like the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia.

"We do not know how this virus will behave under conditions typically found in the developing world," WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said Thursday. She said the agency expects to see a "bleaker" picture as the virus makes its way to Africa and Asia.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said officials were concerned people in poorer countries and those fighting other health problems like malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition and pneumonia might be more susceptible to swine flu.

On Friday, WHO said that 74 countries had reported nearly 30,000 cases including 145 deaths. But so far, the virus appears to be mild. Most people don't need medical treatment to get better.

But the virus might have a more devastating effect in people with underlying health problems. About half of the people who have died from swine flu have had complications like asthma, diabetes, and obesity.

"Any population that has health challenges is potentially going to be at higher risk with H1N1 (swine flu)," Hartl said.

In May, officials led by Chan and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked vaccine makers to save a portion of their production for poor countries. Chan was aiming to get 10 percent of the global pandemic vaccine supply reserved for poor nations.

Some companies have agreed to help. GlaxoSmithKline PLC offered to donate 50 million doses of pandemic vaccine to WHO for distribution to developing countries.

During the bird flu crisis, Sanofi-Aventis promised WHO about 60 million doses based on the H5N1 strain. WHO is now talking with Sanofi to switch some or all of those vaccines over to swine flu doses.

Because more than 95 percent of flu vaccines are still made in eggs, experts say the Novartis announcement is unlikely to significantly boost the world's pandemic vaccine supply.

But the news pushed up Novartis shares by 4.4 percent to close at 45 Swiss francs ($41.84) on the Zurich exchange Friday.

WHO and nongovernment organizations like Oxfam are continuing to ask drugmakers to make some of their pandemic vaccines available for poorer countries at a cheaper price, as well as asking donor countries and organizations to pay for the doses.

But in a pandemic situation, WHO's attempts to secure vaccine for the poor and even the contracts countries have signed with drugmakers may make little difference to who actually gets the vaccine, some experts say.

In previous pandemics, vaccines have never left the country where they are made before all of that country's own needs have been met.

"WHO can say whatever it wishes, but pharmaceutical companies will take their marching orders from the politicians," said David Fedson, a vaccines expert and former professor of medicine at the University of Virginia.

"Do you think any doses of vaccine made in France, Germany, the Czech Republic or anywhere will be allowed out to go to other countries just because there's a contract?" Fedson said.

Ultimately, Fedson said health officials and politicians will have to deal with a limited amount of vaccine for the billions worldwide who want it. "There's a lot of dirtiness in vaccine politics," he said. "We may try our best, but we won't succeed in doing what's necessary."




Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: PPE and Infection Control

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Buyer's Guide Featured Companies

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS

Get JEMS in Your Inbox

 

Fire EMS Blogs


Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts

 

EMS Airway Clinic

Mechanical CPR is Producing Resuscitation Results Beyond Expectations

Discover why clinical studies are finding mechanical CPR just as effective as optimally-performed CPR.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

New Technology Helps Missouri Ambulances

Strategic GPS tracking helps in Springfield.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Profile: Hospital Wing Air Ambulance

Take a look inside this Memphis service.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

New Monitors for Wyoming EMS

Grant helps Torrington EMS get new equipment.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

London Medics Increasingly Attacked

One medic describes her violent confrontation.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Violence, Arson in Ferguson

Crowds in Ferguson and elsewhere react to decision.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

California Bus Rollover

One killed and dozens injured.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

Buffalo Residents Dig Out and Prepare for Flooding

Flooding expected as heavy snow melts.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

The AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher Conversion Kit - EMS Today 2013

AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher all-hazards preparedness & response tool
Watch It >


More Product Videos >