Taiwan prepares to mass produce new bird flu vaccine (AFP)
submited by wanglh at Apr, 14, 2007 0:31 AM from Yahoo News
CHUNAN, Taiwan (AFP) - Taiwanese scientists are preparing to mass produce a bird flu vaccine developed using a novel cell-based technology to battle any possible epidemic of the deadly H5N1 virus.
Starting from scratch, a team at the Vaccine Research and Development Centre of the National Health Research Institutes took just 13 months and 40 million Taiwan dollars (1.21 million US) to develop the necessary expertise, team leader Pele Chong said.
Unlike most countries or companies which use chicken eggs as a medium for cultivating their vaccines, the Taiwanese team uses the so-called Madin-Darby canine kidney cell.
"Our cell technology is based on dog kidney cells and this has not been used in any vaccine production," Chong said.
He said one of the reasons they chose not to use egg-based technology was the possible shortage of eggs in case of a bird flu outbreak.
US-based Baxter Vaccines also uses cell-based technology, but centered on the African green monkey kidney cell.
Taiwan´s vaccine is intended to provide the island with an indigenous defence against a possible epidemic of bird flu which has claimed at least 171 lives worldwide since 2003, most of them in Asia.
It is expected to undergo human clinical trials next year.
"As vaccines are to be used on humans, Taiwan´s government and our team will make sure of their safety before we can initiate the first and second phase of clinical trials" in 2008, Chong told a group of foreign correspondents Thursday.
The researchers are able to produce about 7,000 doses a month in the laboratory and hope to increase this tenfold after construction of a pilot plant is completed before the end of this year.
Taiwan´s health authorities hope that a factory could be built here with an annual capacity of 16 million doses of such vaccine.
"In the past, Taiwan´s government had neglected the vaccine industry," said Chong.
"Some claimed that if you want milk, you just buy milk, why bother building farms and raising cows. But the problem is, you may know, nowadays even if you have money, you may not be able to acquire the vaccines you badly need," he said.
The health authorities have previously stockpiled 190,000 imported vaccines for emergency use even though they have not undergone human clinical trials.
The vaccine project is part of a plan launched by the government in January to guard against a bird flu epidemic, which also includes drills to deal with possible outbreaks and measures to detect the virus at an early stage.
"We´ve tried our best," said Chiu Chan-hsien, an official of the Centres for Disease Control.
"But we must not say we have fully prepared ourselves. You never know, as the virus mutates, making the battle more difficult."
A less virulent H7N3 strain was twice detected in samples of bird droppings in Taiwan last year and again in January.
In 2003, Taiwan slaughtered 467,000 birds, mostly chickens, after the H5N2 strain was discovered on chicken farms on the offshore island of Kinmen.
Scientists fear bird flu could mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans and lead to a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions.
They say multiple strains of the disease originated in southern China and spread elsewhere.
Past flu pandemics have caused a vast number of deaths. One in 1918, just after the end of World War I, killed at least 20 million people worldwide.
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