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PowderMed set to test needle-free bird flu vaccine
posted by admin on 12/07/06

The privately-held firm believes vaccines delivered in this way may produce better immunity than conventional ones

LONDON, July 10 (Reuters) - British biotech firm PowderMed Ltd has filed for permission to start the first human clinical tests of a needle-free vaccine against the avian flu virus, it said on Monday.

The experimental vaccine will target the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has spread rapidly through poultry flocks and has killed 131 people around the world since 2003.

Unlike conventional flu vaccines, PowderMed's product uses fragments of virus DNA to stimulate immunity and tiny particles are blasted into the skin instead of using a needle. A finished product is still several years away, however.

The first-time-in-man clinical trial will be conducted at a clinical research unit in London and will examine the ability of a vaccine based upon the Vietnam H5N1 avian influenza strain to protect against a potential pandemic form of flu.

Previous studies have shown the vaccine technology produces 100 percent immune responses against normal seasonal flu and PowderMed hopes for a similar response with H5N1.

Its vaccine is produced by copying a gene from the virus and enclosing it in tiny gold particles. It is delivered using an injector powered by concentrated helium gas, which pushes the particles into the skin.

The privately-held firm believes vaccines delivered in this way may produce better immunity than conventional ones. Current flu vaccines are based on 50-year-old technology that requires live chicken eggs and six months of brewing time.

Several companies that make traditional flu vaccines are also working on H5N1 vaccines, including Sanofi Aventis SA (SASY.PA: Quote, Profile, Research), GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L: Quote, Profile, Research) and Novartis AG (NOVN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research) unit Chiron.

Governments want to encourage companies that can produce better vaccines in less time. They hope an influenza pandemic does not come in the meantime, but fear the H5N1 virus could evolve into a pandemic strain of flu at any time.

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