Two H5N1 human vaccine trials to begin

By KATE WALKER, UPI Correspondent   |   Jan. 27, 2006 at 3:21 PM

OXFORD, England, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- A 22-year-old chicken vendor is believed to be Indonesia's 15th avian-influenza fatality.

An official from Sulianti Saroso Hospital said that the results were awaiting confirmation from a World Health Organization-affiliated laboratory in Hong Kong but that initial signs pointed to bird flu.

The man had been admitted to hospital a week ago and was breathing through a ventilator until he died.

Three other suspected avian-influenza patients are being treated at the hospital.

Meanwhile:

-- Japanese doctors voiced concerns Wednesday that North Korea is hiding at least one case of human avian-influenza infection.

Noureddin Mona, head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in China, which also oversees North Korea, refuted the concerns Friday, saying: "The (North Korean) Ministry of Agriculture ruled out all these kinds of rumors and there is no outbreak and not any human cases."

Lee Young-wha, head of Rescue the North Korean People! Urgent Action Network, which is highly critical of the North Korean government, had claimed that a woman with avian flu was admitted to a Red Cross hospital in Pyongyang in December.

The group did not elaborate on its discovery of the allegedly ill woman but said that it had become suspicious of avian flu in the country after it learned that a group of Koreans living in Japan had visited the country with multi-packs of Tamiflu.

-- Staff at Rangoon Hteinpin Cemetery in Burma have aroused suspicion that the government may be covering up an avian-flu outbreak in the country.

The Democratic Voice of Burma reported Thursday that "piles" of chicken feet have been transported to the crematorium in containers and incinerated.

While this behavior would necessarily be considered suspicious in itself, the incineration of chicken feet has "severely delayed" human cremations. Staff are also unnerved by the fact that only one part of the bird has been incinerated, while one told the DVB that "it was the only time he has seen chicken feet destroyed at the crematorium in his life."

DVB sought comment from the Burmese government over the incinerations, but none was given.

-- GlaxoSmithKline in London announced Thursday that it would begin clinical trials of its H5N1 vaccine in April.

The trials will use two adjuvants, or two different immune-system stimuli, to make the vaccine work. Results are expected in three months, with production beginning in late 2006.

David Stout, president of pharmaceutical operations at GSK, said: "We know one adjuvant works, and we have a second adjuvant. We believe, based on studies we have done, it will work even better.

"We are going to take both formulations in the clinic in early April, so that we will know we'll be able to pick between the two, and should be able to start production by the end of the year."

-- Pennsylvania researchers have developed an avian-flu vaccine for use in humans that they claim has been 100-percent effective in tests on animals.

Human trials of the virus have not yet begun, although they are expected to be successful as the vaccine was based on a human virus.

The virus was made from a genetically mutated human cold virus, and was grown in a laboratory Petri dish in only 36 days, rather than the months traditionally expected.

When trialed in mice, the vaccine produced two types of immunity, suggesting that it will be suited not only to fighting the virus, but also to adapting to its mutations.

"This means that this recombinant vaccine can stimulate several lines of defense against the H5N1 virus, giving it greater therapeutic value," said Simon Barratt-Boyes, a microbiologist on the team of researchers.

"More importantly, it suggests that even if H5N1 mutates, the vaccine is still likely to be effective against it. This is a very potent vaccine. The results of this animal trial are very promising."

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