Swine Flu ‘Sensitive’ to Two Antivirals; Vaccine Would Take Months To Develop
Drug makers on Sunday said that they are prepared to supply millions of doses of medicines and begin working on a vaccine to protect against the swine flu, Reuters reports (Hirschler/Cage, Reuters, 4/26). Reuters reported on a WHO statement Friday indicating that the new virus, while never before seen in humans or pigs, has been shown to be sensitive to Roche's seasonal flu drug, Tamiflu, "a pill that can both treat flu and prevent infection" (Nebehay, Reuters, 4/24). GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza, an inhaled drug used to treat seasonal flu has also been shown to work against "viral samples of the disease" (Reuters, 4/26).
WHO currently has enough Tamiflu in stock to treat up to 5 million people. Roche "also can ramp up production to make 400 million treatments a year," write the AP/Boston Herald (AP/Boston Herald, 4/27). According to Reuters, Roche spokeswoman Claudia Schmitt said, "So far the WHO has not requested we deploy this stockpile. Of course, as soon as the WHO requires that we deploy it we will do so."
Though the antivirals can help to contain the flu virus, Reuters writes, "The longer-term battle against any pandemic, however, depends not on antiviral drugs but a successful vaccine." Because the swine flu virus is new to researchers, the development of a vaccine to protect against the virus could take months (Reuters, 4/26).
Over the weekend, Baxter International confirmed that it is working with WHO on a swine flu vaccine, according to the Chicago Tribune (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 4/27). The company's patented technology allows them to cut the time it takes to typically develop vaccines in half -- reducing a 26-week project to 13 weeks, AP/Business Week reports (AP/Business Week, 4/25).
The Winnipeg Free Press/Calgary Herald on Saturday reported that scientists from the Winnipeg-based National Microbiology Lab have also started to work on a vaccine to protect against H1N1 swine flu and are investigating whether the existing flu shot could offer any protection from the virus (Skerritt, Winnipeg Free Press/Calgary Herald, 4/25).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.