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Drug Manufacturer Says Increased Bird Flu Vaccine Supply Possible


There may have been advances in the development of a vaccine to protect people against the H5N1 avian influenza virus, or bird flu. Researchers say it could be possible to substantially increase global vaccine supply in advance of a potential bird flu pandemic. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has been testing its ability to respond to an outbreak of the disease. Voice of America's Martin Secrest has more:

In April, the World Health Organization staged the first simulated drill to rapidly contain the early signs of a bird flu outbreak in people. The scenario was a mock emergency in Cambodia. In the imaginary outbreak, medicines and supplies were sent from Singapore to Phnom Penh, after five cases of bird flu were confirmed in Cambodia. The WHO says the drill went well.

"This is more reaffirming, or validating, our normal procedures, but at the same time, preparing for the worst situation,” said Paul Cox of WHO.

The anti-viral drug Tamiflu is the current preferred treatment for bird flu, but drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline is reporting new clinical data for their existing vaccine, called Relenza. The drugmaker says that low doses of its vaccine were shown to induce substantial levels of immunity, suggesting it may be possible to substantially increase the global bird flu vaccine supply.

Barbara Howe, the Director of Vaccine Research at GlaxoSmithKline, explains. "The current capacity of influenza vaccine manufacture, for the whole world, is about 350 million doses, and we know that there are 6 billion people in the world. We have the ability to stretch the capacity and protect many more people."

Health experts fear that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a strain that easily infects humans. The consequences of that could be dire -- the World Bank estimates that a severe avian flu pandemic could cost the global economy up to two trillion dollars.