Supported by the EU Research
Framework Programme, influenza experts from the UK, Italy and Norway,
working with vaccine researchers from Sanofi Pasteur in France,
have developed the first human candidate vaccine for the H7N1 virus.
Following this research breakthrough, it is planned that this new
vaccine, called ‘RD-3’, will go into clinical trials
in Spring 2006. Most vaccine development has centred on H5N1 thus
far, which is the highly pathogenic form of the avian influenza
(“bird flu”) dominating the news at present. However,
a report from the FLUPAN research project in last week’s Journal
of Infectious Disease (JID) notes that also the H7 virus can spread
from poultry to humans.
The vaccine research project is called FLUPAN and
is funded by the European Union to demonstrate European capacity
to produce a safe and effective vaccine against highly pathogenic
avian influenza viruses. The FLUPAN consortium consists of six partners:
Health Protection Agency, UK; Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Italy;
National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, UK; Sanofi
Pasteur, France, the vaccines business of the Sanofi-Aventis Group;
University of Bergen, Norway; University of Reading, UK.
The project began in September 2001 by selecting
a highly pathogenic H7N1 virus as a potential pandemic virus. This
virus caused lethal outbreaks in Italian poultry in 1999 and was
related to the H7N7 poultry virus in the Netherlands.
As the H7N1 virus was too dangerous for direct use
in standard influenza vaccine production, it was modified to make
it safe using a process called ‘reverse genetics’. The
‘custom-built’ RD-3 vaccine, passed international safety
tests and is now being used by Sanofi Pasteur to produce a vaccine.
It is the first vaccine not to use eggs in its production by using
the reverse genetics technique.
The risk of H7 as emerging as a pandemic influenza
strain is considered to be lower than H5N1. Nonetheless, it is expected
that the H7 FLUPAN research will be a valuable resource for pandemic
vaccine development in the future. The research appears in the October
15 issue (p. 1318) of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, which
can be found at http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JID/journal/.
An expert meeting last week in Brussels investigated
further research needs in the area of avian and pandemic influenza.
The experts concluded that a rapid mobilization of extra-ordinary
research efforts is required to address the imminent needs in animal
health and the protection of humans from both avian influenza and
the potential emergence of pandemic influenza in humans with possible
devastating consequences. Therefore, the fight against the disease
needs to be tackled at the source, i.e. in animals, while at the
same time, a major effort is needed to ensure the protection of
humans through the availability of highly performing pandemic influenza
For more information on the EU-funded research project FLUPAN:
For further information on avian influenza from
World Health Organisation (WHO):
Michael H. Wappelhorst, Press and information officer
Information and communication Unit, Research DG, European
Tel: +32.2.298 75 75, Fax: +32.2.295 82 20