Progress towards a swine flu vaccine
It's good to see progress is being made towards a vaccine against the new influenza A(H1N1) virus strain, more commonly known as swine flu. The Health Protection Agency has just announced that it has produced a strain of virus suitable for a vaccine. I reported on the start of this work earlier this month at the HPA laboratories in Hertfordshire.
The team at NIBSC (the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control) is one of a small number worldwide working on producing a safe "seed strain" virus. This will now be sent to vaccine manufacturers who will get it ready for full-scale production as and when the World Health Organisation declares a flu pandemic or directs them that the time is right to switch from production of seasonal flu vaccines to a pandemic strain.
NIBSC received its original swine flu virus from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta which is co-ordinating the scientific response to this novel form of influenza. So it's not surprising that the CDC is a few days ahead of scientists in the UK.
Yesterday, Sanofi Pasteur, which has vaccine plants in France and the US announced that it had already received the seed virus from the CDC. Clearly this is not a race. For something of such potential importance as a pandemic flu vaccine, it's good to know there are several teams working on it.