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Chinese Biotech Company to Test SARS Vaccine on Humans - 2003-11-25


A company in China says it is ready to test a vaccine to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome on humans.

China's State Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday a new SARS vaccine for could be tested on humans as early as next month.

Beijing biotechnology firm Sinovac, known in China as Kexing Bioproducts, says it recently petitioned the state agency to try out the SARS vaccine on human volunteers.

Sinovac told VOA on Tuesday that after state media reported the news, people starting calling the company to ask how to volunteer for the trials.

"We already got a lot of phone calls from people. … They ask how and where to be the volunteer," said Wang An, a company spokeswoman.

While many independent and university laboratories around the world have been trying to find a SARS vaccine, Sinovac may be the first company to conduct trials on humans.

The vaccine is made up of purified dead but complete SARS virus, and when administered to people, could protect the body from SARS by preparing its immune system to fight the virus.

Ms. Wang says the vaccine has been successful in extensive clinical trials on animals, but Sinovac will not initiate human tests until it has discussed its methods with World Health Organization experts.

The WHO told VOA Tuesday that these human trials are probably geared towards testing the vaccine's safety and not its efficacy.

Bob Dietz, the agency's Beijing-based spokesman, says the WHO will meet with government and company scientists in coming days.

"You don't test that it can … protect you from SARS, you test to make sure the vaccine is safe to use and doesn't have any side effects," said Mr. Dietz.

He added that formal approval of any SARS vaccine will probably take years after human trials have proven successful. The race to find a SARS vaccine was expedited when the WHO approved what it calls the fast-tracking of clinical trials in mid-November. The U.N. agency has allowed similar fast-tracking to test HIV vaccines.

China, where SARS originated last year, reported more than half of the world's 8,000 cases. About 700 SARS patients died worldwide.

SARS can cause a serious pneumonia and other complications that compromise the body's ability to fight illness.

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