Brussels, 27 October 2005
Supported by the EU Research Framework Programme, influenza experts from the UK, Italy and Norway, working with vaccine researchers from Sanofi Pasteur in France, have developed another human candidate vaccine for pandemic human flu, targeting the H7N1 avian flu virus. Following this research breakthrough, it is planned that this new vaccine, for the first time targeted against H7N1 virus, will go into clinical trials in Spring 2006 (it will be called ‘RD-3’). Most vaccine development has centred on H5N1 thus far, which is the highly pathogenic form of the avian influenza (“bird flu”) dominating the news at present. However, a report from the FLUPAN research project in last week’s Journal of Infectious Disease (JID) notes that also the H7 virus can spread from poultry to humans. These important research activities on vaccines are part of the overall set of measures undertaken by the Commission in order to tackle avian influenza and the potential emergence of pandemic influenza in humans.
The vaccine research project is called FLUPAN is funded by the European Union to demonstrate European capacity to produce a safe and effective vaccine against highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses. The FLUPAN consortium consists of six partners: Health Protection Agency, UK; Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Italy; National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, UK; Sanofi Pasteur, France, the vaccines business of the Sanofi-Aventis Group; University of Bergen, Norway; University of Reading, UK.
The project began in September 2001 by selecting a highly pathogenic H7N1 virus as a potential pandemic virus. This virus caused lethal outbreaks in Italian poultry in 1999 and was related to the H7N7 poultry virus in the Netherlands.
As the H7N1 virus was too dangerous for direct use in standard influenza vaccine production, it was modified to make it safe using a process called ‘reverse genetics’. The ‘custom-built’ RD-3 vaccine, passed international safety tests and is now being used by Sanofi Pasteur to produce a vaccine. It is the first vaccine not to use eggs in its production by using the reverse genetics technique.
The risk of H7 emerging as a pandemic influenza strain is considered to be lower than for H5N1. Nonetheless, the technological progress achieved through the H7 FLUPAN research ensures that the project will be a valuable resource for pandemic vaccine development in the future. The research appears in the October 15 issue (p. 1318) of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, which can be found at http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JID/journal/.
An expert meeting last week in Brussels investigated further research needs in prevention and therapies against avian and possible human pandemic influenza. The experts concluded that a rapid mobilization of extraordinary research efforts is required to address the needs for prevention through improved vaccines. These research efforts and clinical studies are part of the wide range of actions and measures undertaken or proposed by the European Commission in order to address the current avian influenza situation and the potential emergence of pandemic influenza in humans.
The fight against the disease needs to be tackled at the source, i.e. in
animals, while at the same time, a major effort is needed to ensure the
protection of humans through the availability of highly performing pandemic