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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Drug Firms Gear up for Swine Flu Season

Published August 11, 2009 10:42 AM by Vern Enge

Flu season will be here all too soon, and some of the world's key drug companies are already gearing up for battle, putting their final touches on vaccines that will be used in countries across the globe this season. So far, however, no vaccine has gained approval.

Major players are Swiss drug maker Novartis, French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi-Pasteur, Australian drug maker CSL, and English pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline PLC. Each firm is in a different phase of experimentation. But all the companies are targeting swine flu eradication in their efforts this year.

Here's where things currently stand.

Novartis began injecting its swine flu in people in its first human tests in early August. This vaccine will be tested on 6,000 people in Germany, Britain and the U.S.

Sanofi-Pasteur, which makes about 40 percent of the world's flu vaccine, expects to start testing its swine flu vaccine shortly in the U.S. and Europe.

CSL became the first vaccine maker to start testing its vaccine in humans. Those efforts got under way in July.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline, which has orders for 291 million doses of vaccine, has not yet started testing its vaccine in humans.

WHO recommends vaccines be beefed up with adjuvants--ingredients used to boost the body's immune response--as a way to stretch the supply of swine flu vaccine.

Drug makers are encountering some problems in their efforts. In July, WHO noted the swine flu viruses being used to make the vaccine were not growing enough of a key ingredient and were producing only half as much yield compared to regular flu viruses. Novartis reported it is getting only about 30 percent to 50 percent of the usual yield from flu viruses to make vaccines.

Time, however, is running out. Flu season will be with us shortly and will put added pressures on drug firms expecting to ship out vaccines during the fourth quarter.

For continuing coverage of H1N1, visit our swine flu resource center.

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