Sunday, February 19, 2006

Vaccine breakthrough du jour

Yet another story about a "new" vaccine technology that shortens the production time to "weeks." This one also uses a viral vector (baculovirus, not adenovirus) to produce a designated HA protein in cell culture.
The protein is produced by first extracting the genes responsible for the production of hemagglutinin from the influenza virus and inserting them into a baculovirus. Specific host cells are then infected with the baculovirus and produce recombinant hemagglutinin (rHA). Phase II clinical trials show that rHA-based vaccines produced using this system are safe, elicit immunity equal to or greater than egg-based vaccines, and are 100% effective in the prevention of cell culture confirmed influenza.

Wang and his colleagues report the successful production of rHA from 4 strains of influenza that scientists believe to be likely the cause of the next pandemic (H5, H7, H9, and H2) at a level where manufacturing costs are expected to be equal to or less than that of traditional egg-based vaccines. (TerraDaily)
The researchers claim that starting with the prepared baculovirus a closely matched vaccine can be "massively produced" within 2 weeks. Sound pretty good. But like other recent "breakthroughs" this one has a long way to go before the "break" is "through." Even producing a vaccine as good as egg-based ones isn't that good, because the egg-based H5N1 lacked potency. This vaccine hasn't been tested for safety or efficacy. They haven't scaled it up in a commercial production facility. Not to mention that most places have neither the public health infrastructure nor the means to obtain, distribute and administer such a vaccine. We can include the US in that category.

It's good that many people are working on new vaccine technologies. And they didn't need Dr. Frist's Free Pass to do it, either. But there's still an awful long way to go. Too bad we didn't start much earlier. We could have. This isn't brand new technology.