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GSK begins bird flu trials

Race is on to find vaccine against H5N1 as UK firm announces human testing

(GSK) says it has begun testing two potential vaccines against the H5N1 strain of avian flu in humans. The company says it plans to have a pandemic flu vaccine in production by the end of the year.

In one trial in Germany, 400 healthy adult volunteers will be injected with a pandemic flu vaccine using a classic alum adjuvant to improve individual's immune response and possibly allow a lower amount of antigen to be used per dose.

The second study, a clinical trial conducted in Belgium, will see 400 adult volunteers, tested with a pandemic flu vaccine that contains a novel adjuvant system. GSK says that this novel system could further reduce the amount of antigen needed per dose, increasing the number of doses the company could make available worldwide.

ìSuch a vaccine would offer governments additional options of stockpiling and vaccinating ahead of a pandemic outbreak,î said GSK in a statement.

Both trials are evaluating the vaccines' safety and ability to boost a person's immune response against H5N1. GSK says it hopes to have preliminary results available in the third quarter.

GSK appears to have the edge in the race to find a shot that would protect humans from H5N1, a deadly virus that has killed 105 people in the past two years. Scientists are worried that H5N1 could mutate into a strain that would pass easily between humans.

While antivirals such as Roche's Tamiflu and GSK's Relenza have shown some degree of effectiveness at treating the symptoms of avian flu, they do not prevent people from getting infected as a vaccine would.

ìWe believe that vaccinating populations with the appropriate H5N1 vaccine will help educate the body's immune system and reduce expected morbidity and mortality associated with a pandemic,î said GSK head of flu operations, Emmanuel Hanon. ìThis means that if the current bird flu virus mutates to allow human-to-human transmission, a vaccinated person will be better prepared to combat the H5N1 pandemic flu virus.î

GSK has recently committed over £1bn ($2bn) to expand capacity for production of flu vaccines and Relenza. The global flu vaccine market is valued at £700m but analysts believe this could rise to £2bn by 2010.

30th September 2008

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