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R&D news in brief

Our weekly round-up of drug discovery and development stories

Flu vaccine ready for take off

There is still enough time to `avoid a pandemic altogether' by manufacturing a vaccine based on a bird flu strain isolated in 2005 and administering it to at-risk groups, according to US pharma group Chiron. Chief scientific officer, Rino Pappuoli, pointed to a recently completed study that produced ìcompellingî data showing a strong response to a vaccine developed using the bird flu virus isolated in 1997, when combined with the company's `adjuvant', an agent that boosts the human immune response. The study was conducted by the Leicester Royal Infirmary, the UK Health Protection Agency and the US Centers for Disease Control. Pappuoli said it was possible to develop a product and ìstart vaccinating preventativelyî.

Relenza back on the radar

GlaxoSmithKline's influenza drug Relenza (zanamivir) should be stockpiled in readiness for a feared global pandemic of avian flu, according to a group of influential Asian scientists. Writing in the Lancet, Kenneth Tsang, from the University of Hong Kong, and colleagues from Korea, Malaysia and Singapore argue that the drug could prove to be a powerful alternative to Roche's Tamiflu in fighting the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus. `Although both have similar efficacy, zanamivir has fewer adverse reactions, and a favourable resistance profile,' Tsang wrote.

New anti-MRSA antibiotic

A UK professor has called on venture capitalists to invest in a new antibiotic that could fight the MRSA superbug. Professor Colin Smith, of the University of Surrey, says he has found potential new drugs that kill such `superbugs' in a petri dish and now wants to raise cash to see if they can work in humans. His company, RecombinoGen, is currently chaired by Robert Mansfield, ex-head of UK biotech Vernalis.

Heavy promotion limits diabetes options

Charity organisation Diabetes UK has hit out at pharma companies for taking long-established successful insulin products off the market and replacing them with more expensive alternatives. Douglas Smallwood, the charity's chief executive said heavy promotion of new drugs together with the withdrawal of old products was ìdenying people a choiceî. He argued that UK regulators should approve new diabetes treatments only if existing drugs remain available as long-term patients do always adjust easily to new and different insulin-based products.

Pfizer looks to Germany

Pfizer is to produce a new osteoporosis drug in its plant in Illertissen, southern Germany, which will be upgraded for the purpose. The company has submitted an application for experimental treatment Oporia, developed with Ligand Pharmaceuticals, to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval. It is a selective oestrogen receptor modulator designed to prevent and treat the disease in post-menopausal women, a group at risk of losing bony tissue as oestrogen levels fall.

Research relationships

Increased collaboration between pharma companies, academic researchers and regulatory agencies is essential if barriers to drug development are to be removed, according to a joint report by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the US Food and Drug Administration. The report points out that despite significant growth in public and private sector funding for scientific research in recent years, the number of innovative drugs submitted to the regulator has declined steadily since 1996. It said mechanisms that facilitate learning from failed drug targets have to be developed by industry, academia and government.

30th September 2008

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