Egyptian scientists have developed a new vaccine against bird flu virus, though it may take up to two years before it is available, reports Reem Leila
A research team at the Egyptian National Research Centre (NRC) has developed a new vaccine against the H5N1 bird flu virus. The developers claim it will be more effective than imported vaccines in dealing with the strain of the virus found in Egypt.
Head of the research team Mohamed Ali says the vaccine was prepared from local strains of the avian flu virus. Tests to ensure the effectiveness of the vaccine in inducing antibodies have already been conducted and Ali is optimistic that it can be further developed to combat any possible mutation of the virus. "The NRC now has the technology to develop vaccines for the H5N1 virus, including any changes or mutations that may occur," he said.
Egypt uses more than one and a half billion doses of anti-bird flu vaccine each year. Until now they have had to be imported by either the state or private sector at an average cost per dose of PT30.
"When the vaccine is produced locally the cost will be cut by at least half," predicts Ali.
The research team, which began work in 2006, has already produced vaccines for the 2007 and 2008 strains and is currently working on producing a vaccine for the 2009 strain.
Twenty-seven people have died in Egypt from the H5N1 strain of bird flu since it was first identified in the country in early 2006. Most recently a four year-old, Nada Ahmed Reda, died on Monday after contracting the virus. The girl, from Daqahliya governorate in the Nile Delta, brings the number of human cases of avian influenza in Egypt to 72.
A three-year-old boy from Mahala Al-Kubra is also reported to have contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. According to Abdel-Rahman Shahin, official spokesman at the Ministry of Health, the boy was taken to hospital with a high fever on Friday and tested positive for the virus. He is being treated with Tamiflu and is in a stable condition.
The new incidences of human contraction underline the importance of putting the locally produced vaccine in production as soon as possible.
"We have signed a contract with the Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (VACSERA) to start producing the vaccine and it is expected to be available on the market within a year to a year and a half," says NRC head Hani El-Nazer.
It is a timetable that has left Ali disappointed. "Why delay the process for a year and a half?" he asks. "Aren't there already production lines? Or will VACSERA build new factories?"
VACSERA Chairman Mohamed Rabie points out that any new vaccine takes time to move into commercial production. Initially only small amounts of the vaccine will be produced, with the quantity being increased as soon as it is approved by the Pharmaceutical Product Association. Even then there will be at least six months of trials before it shifts into mass production.
The World Bank estimates that a global pandemic resulting from the mutation of bird flu could cost $3 trillion and result in a five per cent drop in world gross domestic product. More than 70 million people could die worldwide. Egypt has seen an increase in bird flu cases over the past two months. The World Health Organisation (WHO) called in March for an investigation into why many of the victims have been young children.