Several major manufacturers have pledged millions of doses of H5N1 vaccine to go towards a global stockpiling scheme initiated by the World Health Organization to protect against the threat of an avian flu pandemic.
The WHO intends to create the stockpile to ease the crisis should a flu pandemic hit, particularly focusing on developing countries that may be unable to cope in the event of a outbreak of avian influenza.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is the only company so far to put an actual figure on its donation, saying that it plans to donate 50 million doses of H5N1 adjuvanted pre-pandemic influenza vaccine to the programme.
GSK's contribution will be delivered over a period of three years, providing enough vaccine to treat 25 million people. The company has also announced its intentions to make additional doses of its vaccine available to the WHO at preferential prices for use in GAVI (Global Alliance for vaccines and Immunisation)-eligible countries.
Fellow vaccine manufacturer Sanofi-Pasteur has also pledged its support of the WHO plans, joining in the initiative and announcing that it is "ready to supply a significant number of doses of H5N1 vaccine" to go towards the global stockpiling plans.
According to the company, part of this donation could be made in bulk immediately. Sanofi believes it can play a key role in the case of a pandemic by "producing as many doses of [its] most advanced vaccine in the shortest possible timeframe".
In April the firm reported its plans to increase production capacity at its French manufacturing plant after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its H5N1 pre-pandemic vaccine, which is being bought up by the US federal government to go towards creating a national stockpile.
Baxter International has also announced its willingness to contribute to the WHO stockpile. The company has said that it will be providing a multi-year donation of its candidate pandemic flu vaccine, in order to help increase access to vaccines in the world's poorest countries.
The company is currently conducting further clinical testing of its cell-culture based adjuvant-free candidate H5N1 flu vaccine following promising results from Phase I/II trials earlier this year.
"Baxter intends to provide additional candidate pandemic influenza vaccine at a price that recognises the economic and financial circumstances in different parts of the world," a statement from the company read.
Baxter has already delivered several million doses of pre-pandemic H5N1 vaccine to several governments around the world, and recently had dealings with both the Austrian and UK governments regarding the provision of flu vaccines.
Hungarian firm Omnivest has also indicated its intention to make some of its H5N1 vaccine available for the WHO stockpile.
The move to push ahead with plans to create an international vaccine stockpile comes as a response to requests made during the WHO World Health Assembly last month, though there are still wrinkles to iron out in terms of detailed operational plans for the stockpile, how and under what conditions it will be deployed, as well as regulatory aspects of the vaccine itself.
The WHO also last month awarded a $2m (€1.5m) grant to Thailand to help the region establish in-country vaccine manufacturing capacity. This was the first of six grants to be doled out to developing countries in another move by the WHO to try and tackle the enormous shortfall in current global vaccine capacity should a pandemic strike.
New IHR come into force
Nicely complimenting these latest announcements, is the fact that the latest revision of the WHO International Health Regulations (IHR) are due to come into effect on 15th June.
The regulations form an international law to help countries contain the threats from diseases that may rapidly spread from country to country. The revised regulations not only expand the number of diseases covered by the law, but also stipulate that health emergencies be contained at the source, not just national borders.
In response to international concerns regarding the public health risk associated with human cases of avian flu, in May 2006 the WHO called on member states to voluntarily implement a number of key IHR provisions in advance in order to try and counteract the threat posed by avian and pandemic influenza.