New Vaccine for Deadly H7N9 Bird Flu Shows Promise


Using a technique that allows for making larger vaccine quantities than previous methods, a team of researchers has produced an experimental vaccine for the deadly H7N9 flu strain.

Scientists used cells from a dog's kidney to make a vaccine against H7N9 — a type of flu carried by birds that was first seen in China last year — by allowing the virus to grow in the cell culture and then treating the mix to kill the part of the virus that causes illness. The idea is that the animal cell culture can produce a lot more of the virus and its associated proteins, said the researchers, who work for the companies that made and tested the vaccine, Novartis in Boston and Accelovance in Rockville, Md. They detailed their work today (April 30) in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"We're taking a virus already adapted to humans and amplifying it in a cell culture," said Niranjan Kanesa-thasan, head of special projects at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics and a co-author of the study. Novartis developed the vaccine in conjunction with another company, Synthetic Genomics Vaccine Inc., with funding from the government.

Many vaccines are produced using eggs, but this method can't always produce the amounts of vaccine necessary for lots of doses. Viruses sometimes fail to grow in eggs, and contamination can spoil a batch. Cell cultures from animals have been used before to make vaccines, but this is the first time the technique has been applied to H7N9.

H7N9 has infected 375 people and caused 115 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. There's no evidence that the virus is transmitted from person to person — most patients so far have been infected by contact with birds.

Written By: Jesse Emspak
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