Swiss place first order for Glaxo bird flu vaccine

(Oct 18. 2006) LONDON (Reuters) - Switzerland on Wednesday became the first country to order a stockpile of GlaxoSmithKline Plc's experimental bird flu vaccine for humans.

Europe's biggest drugmaker said the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health had ordered 8 million doses of its H5N1 vaccine to protect its entire population in the event of a influenza pandemic, which many experts fear may be triggered by bird flu.

Supply and stockpiling of the pre-pandemic vaccine is expected in early 2007 once the Swiss regulatory agency, Swissmedic, has reviewed and approved the regulatory file for the product.

Glaxo said it was also working with other governments across Europe on pandemic preparation plans and remained on track to file its vaccine for approval with the European Medicines Agency by the end of 2006.

Glaxo's vaccine uses only a very low dose of active ingredient, which should help stretch scarce supplies.

A key challenge in the race to produce a vaccine for millions of people around the world -- which governments are keen to stockpile -- is how to make the maximum number of shots from the minimum amount of antigen, or active ingredient.

While Glaxo's vaccine offers protection against the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus now circulating, its impact on any mutated strain of virus is not certain.

However, experts say it could "prime" a person's immune system so they will get stronger effects from a later, better-matched vaccine.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza has spread rapidly out of Asia and has killed more than 150 people who have come into close contact with infected birds.

Experts fear it could trigger a pandemic, a global epidemic of flu that could kill millions, if it acquires the ability to pass easily from human to human.

Rival companies including Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis AG and Baxter International Inc are also racing to develop pandemic H5N1 vaccines.


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