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Bird flu prototype virus produced in lab

A high-security laboratory has created a prototype bird flu, the first step toward making a human vaccine against the potentially deadly new virus, a World Health Organization spokesman said.
/ Source: Reuters

A high-security laboratory has created a prototype bird flu, the first step toward making a human vaccine against the potentially deadly new virus, a World Health Organization spokesman said Thursday.

The WHO will give the prototype virus next week to three drug makers who have expressed interest in producing small sample vaccine batches and carrying out clinical trials, WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said.

The clinical trials are expected to take several months, but large-scale vaccine production would only begin if a deadly pandemic broke out, he added.

Since bird flu erupted in Asia, the U.N. agency has been racing to develop a vaccine to protect humans against the H5N1 strain. Bird flu has killed 26 people in Vietnam and Thailand and decimated poultry stocks across Asia.

“One laboratory has produced the prototype virus. We have sent a note to vaccine manufacturers that the virus would be ready next week,” Thompson told Reuters.

Faded as threat?
In January, the WHO asked three high-security collaborating centers to produce a prototype. The spokesman declined to say which had succeeded, but he added a formal announcement was expected next week.

The three are: the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and Britain’s National Institute for Biological Standards and Control.

Initially, 11 drug manufacturers contacted the WHO about producing the vaccine, but only three have confirmed they want to proceed, said Thompson.

“Bird flu seems to have faded as a concern among manufacturers. They are unwilling to spend a lot of money to make up the clinical batch,” he said.

Clinical trials will be conducted in the United States, under the sponsorship of the National Institutes of Health, according to the WHO spokesman. That meant drug makers required a U.S. license, he added.