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Qld: Swine flu vaccine expected on shelves within months

By Petrina Berry
29 Jun 2009 3:50 PM

BRISBANE, June 29 AAP - A swine flu vaccine made using insect cells is only months away from being available in Australia as researchers seek approvals for human trials.

The University of Queensland (UQ) has produced Australia's first batch of a new candidate vaccine against the H1N1 swine flu virus.

US biopharmaceutical firm Protein Sciences Corporation (PSC) developed the vaccine earlier this month and is transferring its technology to other countries.

This is part of an agreement PSC has with the United Nations and the World Health Organisation to ensure a swine flu vaccine is available to all UN member countries.

Professor Anton Middelberg, from UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, on Monday announced scientists had successfully developed a batch for research purposes.

"We only received the genetic construct from PSC two weeks ago and we have been able to produce the vaccine already, which is an amazing achievement," he said.

"It all depends on the regulatory process but I say we are months away from a swine flu vaccine."

The vaccine is not yet registered for use in Australia, but Prof Middelberg said it was hoped that clinical trials could be fast tracked.

PSC is seeking to conduct clinical trials on healthy adults in Australia, the United States and Mexico.

In a statement earlier this month, PSC said the vaccine should be ready to use in clinical trials or for vaccinations in various countries by mid-July, depending on regulatory clearance.

The company says it can produce about 100,000 doses of the vaccine a week using cell culture technology.

Prof Middelberg said cell culture, in this case insect cells, was far more effective and could deliver vaccines within weeks compared to the slower traditional method of growing live viruses in eggs.

"We are expecting Australia will be one of the first to benefit from this new technology," he said.

"This new technology, when fully realised, will enable us to respond to influenza within days rather than of weeks.

"When that happens we'll be able to defeat influenza."

So far, a total of seven Australians with swine flu have died, but all those cases involved patients with other underlying health issues.

Swine flu has infected nearly 60,000 people in 113 countries and killed more than 260 people since late March, the World Health Organisation says.