A Canadian firm's vaccine technology platform with the potential to significantly boost global flu vaccine production has been granted its first patent.
Microbix Biosystems announced the milestone yesterday, which further advances the technology towards commercialisation and will contribute to the increasing global demand for vaccines.
Last year an independent lab confirmed that the company's novel technology considerably upped the yield of human flu virus obtained from eggs, with a two-fold increase over standard methods.
According to Microbix, the company's technology not only offers the potential to significantly increase flu vaccine production, but also speed up development of vaccines in response to new strains - particularly relevant given current concerns about the potential impact of future flu pandemics.
With global vaccine production capacity currently at a paltry 350 million doses a year, a pandemic - which could up vaccine demand to nearer 6 billion doses - could pose a serious problem to vaccine manufacturers using current production techniques.
To add to the problem, it also been demonstrated that some emerging flu strains, such as avian flu virus H5N1, require vaccines with a higher virus content to achieve a clinical response, thus further increasing the volume of virus required for effective vaccine production.
Microbix highlights the fact that that demand outstripped capacity for influenza vaccine again in 2006, further illustrating the precarious situation the global population is in should a pandemic strike any time soon.
"The world's public health authorities cannot ignore the threat of a pandemic and will need this technology to expand vaccine production capacity at an early date," Microbix chairman and CEO William Gastle said in the company's annual review.
"Our technology offers an opportunity to expand capacity cost-effectively and quickly."
Commercial scale up of the process began last year in a licensed flu vaccine facility, and the company expects further international patents to be granted in the near future.
It's estimated that worldwide sales of human flu vaccine will be in excess of $2bn (€1.5bn) over the next year, and with a growing market for flu vaccines this figure is forecast to hit $3.7bn by 2010.
Microbix hopes to cash in this growing market by collaborating with industry groups and license the vaccine technology to earn fees and royalties, and is already in talks with potential licensees.
Last year the World Health Organization launched the global pandemic influenza action plan as part of a strategy to tackle the logistical challenges posed by the vastly increased production demands a global pandemic could cause.
The project, which aims to increase vaccine supply and encourage the development of new pandemic influenza vaccines, will cost $10bn over 10 years.
Considering influenza epidemics were recently estimated to cost $71-167bn in health care costs and lost productivity in the US alone, it would appear to be a wise investment on the part of the global community in terms of both public and economic health.