First Step Towards Swine Flu Vaccine Achieved

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The first step towards producing a European prototype of a swine flu vaccine has been achieved by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced today.

On a visit to the HPA's National Institute of Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) this morning, Alan Johnson learnt that researchers have sequenced the full genetic code of the virus. This is critical in understanding how the virus operates and identifying the crucial parts of the virus that can be used in vaccine manufacture.

Researchers hope that European manufacturers will be able to take delivery of candidate vaccine prototypes in the coming months so preliminary steps to mass vaccine production can begin.

The NIBSC is the only centre in the UK and one of a handful around the world developing vaccine prototypes for the European vaccine manufacturers. In the US, efforts are focused through the Centre for Disease Control.

In July 2007, the Government signed advanced supply agreements, which will enable the UK to purchase up to 132 million doses of pandemic specific vaccine, when it becomes available. The advanced supply agreements are worth ?155.4 million over four years. Under these contracts, GSK and Baxter are committed to supplying a pandemic influenza vaccine as soon as the pandemic strain is identified and made available by the World Health Organization.

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The HPA researchers will also work with sister organisations to compare the characteristics of this virus with other samples to gain a greater understanding of how flu infects people and how it can quickly change to evade our immune systems.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "A significant step towards protecting the world's health against swine flu has been taken."

"The speed with which vaccine prototypes can be created to combat potential pandemics is testimony to the dedication and world-class expertise of Health Protection Agency researchers.

"We have been preparing for the possibility of a pandemic for some time. We now look to the vaccine industry to produce the required quantities of vaccine as quickly as possible."

Professor Maria Zambon, Director of the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections, said: "We are continuing to learn more and more each day about swine flu. The pure sample of virus that we have isolated, together with its genetic fingerprint, will be important resources as scientific organisations join forces on the development of an effective vaccine.

"The rapid assessment of this virus will ultimately help us to make future decisions regarding the health implications of swine flu."

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