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Australia Approves Locally-Made Avian Flu Vaccine for Humans


June 17, 2008
By The Canadian Press

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June 17, 2008, Canberra, Australia  – Australia has approved a locally made bird flu vaccine for humans that researchers hope will provide some protection if the current virus mutates into a new form that triggers a pandemic, the government said today.

Panvax, produced by Australian-based CSL Ltd., is the latest pre-pandemic vaccine that shows effectiveness in humans against the current H5N1 bird flu virus, Health Minister Nicole Roxon said.

The government contributed more than 7 million Australian dollars (US$6.6 million) to the vaccine's development and Australia's drug regulator, Therapeutic Goods Administration, has registered its use within the country, Roxon said in a statement.

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CSL General Manager Mary Sontrop said it was a registration requirement that the vaccine only be supplied in the event of a pandemic declared by the World Health Organization.

She added that providing Australians with vaccine would be her company's first priority. She said the vaccine was not yet licensed for sale outside the country.

Bird flu has killed at least 241 people worldwide and experts fear the virus might mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic killing millions worldwide. So far, it remains largely an animal disease, with most human cases occurring after close contact with infected birds.

A few other companies worldwide have received licenses for vaccines, and numerous others are working to develop one. The vaccines are designed to provide protection against the current H5N1 virus, and no one knows for sure how much immunity they would provide if the virus mutates into a different form that spreads easily among people.

Researchers say it would probably take several months after the start of a pandemic to produce a vaccine specifically targeted at the new virus.

Roxon said CSL would ramp up operations after the start of a pandemic to create a vaccine that is effective against the new strain.

CSL's current vaccine is derived from the bird flu virus circulating in Vietnam, said Neil Formica, a vaccine researcher at the company. In trials, it appeared to provide some protection against other versions of the virus, such as the one circulating in Indonesia, he said.

The H5N1 bird flu virus began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003 and has since spread to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.