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New insect cell flu vaccine ‘promising’

12th April 2007

A new flu vaccine made using insect cells has proved successful in tests and holds promise for use in a flu pandemic, scientists have said today.

Previous vaccine studies have used hens’ eggs but the researchers claim that there are a number of problems with this method, including difficulty in scaling up production of eggs in the event of a flu pandemic.

The need for an effective vaccine has emerged in the wake of avian flu, which has so far killed 171 people. Fears have arisen that if the H5N1 virus changes into a form that is infectious to humans and spreads from person to person then there could be a global outbreak.

US researchers at the University of Rochester made an experimental vaccine using artificially-created hemagglutinin (HA), an influenza virus that causes red blood cells to clump together, in insect cells. Once in the cells, HA becomes the virus baculovirus (rHA0).

During the 2004-05 flu season the researchers conducted their trial at three US academic medical centres on 460 healthy adults.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers claim that the rHA0 vaccine is “well tolerated in healthy adults” and showed evidence “of protection against influenza infection and disease”.

They add: “The safety data generated in this study are consistent with the safety profile observed in previous studies of rHA0 vaccine. These vaccines have been well tolerated at all doses administered and are associated with low rates of local reactions.”

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