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Can biotech tackle swine flu?

As reported cases of swine flu continue to accumulate (as of today, 40 had been linkurl:reported;http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/index.htm in the US) and mainstream media outlets dust off their foreboding music tracks and positively scary taglines, a biotechnology company in Maryland says that its approach may speed development of a successful vaccine. Influenza A/South Carolina/1918 (H1N1) VLPsImage: Novavax, Inc.Researchers at Novavax have been developing vaccines for the H5N1 strain of avian flu

By | April 27, 2009

As reported cases of swine flu continue to accumulate (as of today, 40 had been linkurl:reported;http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/index.htm in the US) and mainstream media outlets dust off their foreboding music tracks and positively scary taglines, a biotechnology company in Maryland says that its approach may speed development of a successful vaccine.
Influenza A/South Carolina/1918 (H1N1) VLPs
Image: Novavax, Inc.
Researchers at Novavax have been developing vaccines for the H5N1 strain of avian flu, along with other strains of influenza, over the past few years using an approach built around virus-like particles (VLP)--viral membrane proteins in a matrix of lipids. Researchers from the company, with scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published a linkurl:study;http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19321609?log$=activity last month in which they successfully protected mice against a reconstructed virus from the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak through intranasal immunization with H1N1 VLPs. A new strain of H1N1 is likely causing the current outbreak of swine flu in North America, which this weekend led both the World Health Organization and the CDC to declare a public health emergency. linkurl:Gregory Poland,;http://mayoresearch.mayo.edu/mayo/research/staff/poland_ga.cfm an immunologist and head of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, said VLPs and other novel approaches to vaccine development, for combating influenza are exciting but untested. "The issue, from the perspective of influenza, is that none of these is approved," he said. In fact, the only FDA-approved VLP-based vaccines on the market are those developed to protect women from human papillomavirus. Novavax's typical timeframe, going from DNA sequence to a testable product based on VLPs, is 10 to 12 weeks, according to the company's vice president for strategy, linkurl:Thomas Johnston.;http://www.novavax.com/go.cfm?do=Page.View&pid=11#Thomas "The way we develop vaccines allows us to move pretty quickly once DNA sequences are known," Johnston told __The Scientist__, adding that Novavax--like scores of other biotechs and pharmaceutical companies--received the sequence data for the new H1N1 strain of swine flu late last week. "We have begun our process for developing a vaccine." Novavax's approach--which clones key viral genes, and uses insect cell cultures to produce the virus-like particles--is faster and safer than approaches that utilize live viruses, said linkurl:Gale Smith,;http://www.novavax.com/go.cfm?do=Page.View&pid=11#Gale Novavax's vice president for vaccine development. Because the latest strain of H1N1 is transmittable from human to human, manufacturing a live virus vaccine represents significant safety risks, he added. But so might a relatively untested strategy. Novavax has two vaccine candidates in clinical trials: One, for H5N1, just completed Phase IIa trials, and a seasonal vaccine candidate is in Phase IIa trials now. According to linkurl:Andrea Sant,;http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/smd/mbi/faculty/sant.htm an immunologist at the University of Rochester, traditional approaches, such as the commonly used subunit vaccines that consist of non-viable viral protein extracts, could be enough. "I think it's not impossible to make a conventional vaccine for next fall," at the typical start of the flu season, she said. linkurl:Hildegund Ertl,;http://www.wistar.org/research_facilities/ertl/research.htm an immunologist at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, cautioned that going the VLP route may be tricky because the approach is so new and relatively untested. "For a company that's in a pre-clinical stage for a new vaccine to think that their vaccine is going to help in this situation is very optimistic indeed," she told __The Scientist__. "I would stick to what we know about in case time is of the essence." Ertl and Sant agreed that how swine flu plays out in the human population--how the virus mutates, moves between hosts, etc--over the next couple weeks will determine which vaccine development strategy will be most effective. "A lot will depend on what happens over the next month," Sant said. __Correction (April 28): The original version of this story mistakenly mentioned vaccines that use live virus cells. Viruses, of course, are not composed of cells. __The Scientist__ regrets the error.__
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Vaccine dreams;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/54882/
[August 2008]*linkurl:From SARS to avian flu;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15315/
[14th March 2005]*linkurl:Playing chicken with flu;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15152/
[20th December 2004]
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Comments

April 28, 2009

1. "approaches that utilize live viral cells". Either 'Novavax's vice president for vaccine development' has no idea what he is talking about (if he would have been PR manager, maybe I would have understood that), or Bob Grant just slept over the phrase. Viral Cells???\n\n2. How should we read the statement by head of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota that other approaches are exciting but untested? Does it mean that there will be hope in the next years, or that "they are untested, so unsafe and it should stay this way!"\n\n3. I'd be really interested to find out whether ANYONE has statistics on the number of Influenza cases in unvaccinated versus vaccinated persons. In other words: do you have a statistically siginificant advantage by being vaccinated??
Avatar of: Zhang Junjie

Zhang Junjie

Posts: 2

April 28, 2009

It is not new to use VLP as antigen to stimulate neutral antibody. I believe that it will help to get vaccine quickly once new flu was isolated and sequenced. But the basic question is that HA and NA of Flu change so quickly that the vaccine will lose efficiency soon since its core idea is the same as traditional methods. More efficient vaccine is needed, maybe not only antibody, CTL, even the TLR or RLR etc. should be involved. It's kind of cocktail vaccine. Much work to do for immunologists, I think.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

April 28, 2009

I agree - the vaccine development strategy that will be most effective will be the quickest. I believe that in-silico science could do a better job in helping shorten the development cycle with more realistic simulations. Like forecasting weather, if the models were perfect (let's dream for a moment) then the simulations would be very realistic and make realistic predictions. Apply this analogy to drug development and you narrow down your drug candidates with realism - how fast is that? Well, it eliminates the cost of blind alleys for starters. Realism is not a function of computer speed - it's a problem with the models. The models need a way to learn from the real world to be able to converge on it.
Avatar of: Nguyen Nguyen

Nguyen Nguyen

Posts: 1

April 29, 2009

I hope that the new effective vaccine will soon be developed, tessted and appoved. that the mankind will do not affect by swine flu. :D

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