Thursday, December 22, 2005

China's virus, China's vaccine

The best indicator of the cloud of suspicion over China are news stories about how forthright they now are. A case of damning with belated praise, but better late than never:
"There is a definite willingness to be completely co-operative, be completely transparent and to exchange samples with the WHO and with other partners so we can track the genetic changes," Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, said when commenting on the current bird flu control effort in China.

In addition to transparency, China has tremendously increased the amount of scientific involvement in the prevention and control of the infection, he told a news conference in Beijing.(People's Daily)
The praise comes in the context of a new agreement whereby China will share virus samples from H5N1 cases, something they had not done previously. A draft agreement between WHO and the Chinese Ministry of Health fulfilled a pledge made two months ago at a bird flu summit in Ottawa. Now comes word the first samples from recent human cases have been handed over to WHO by China's CDC. This is good news. Let's hope the cooperative attitude continues.

The Chinese also report they have begun their own clinical trials of an experimental H5N1 vaccine. Trials in animals reportedly showed an immune response. The initial Phase I trials will examine safety, efficacy, optimum dosage and schedule. The British National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) provided the seed strain and the first 6 of 120 Beijing volunteers (aged 18 - 60) have just had the vaccine administered. Trials are expected to last 9 months, but preliminary Phase I results will be available in . The Reuters article reporting the trials had no details on tested dosages and schedules or whether the vaccine contained an adjuvant. The vaccine is being made by the Chinese company, Sinovac.

The more trials with experimental vaccines the better, as we are pretty much in the dark at the moment. It is helpful if additional trials confirm what has been done elsewhere, but we also need more trials with adjuvants and we believe it is useful to consider intradermal administration. We await the Chinese results with interest.