Novartis, the J. Craig Venter Institute, Synthetic Genomics Vaccines and the US CDC are racing to develop a vaccine for the H7N9 influenza virus sweeping through China.
The organisations have teamed up to reverse engineer the virus' genetic sequence according to Novartis spokeswoman Liz Power, who told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that: Following the viral gene sequences being made publicly available via GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data) by the China CDC, Novartis collaborated with the J. Craig Venter Institute and Synthetic Genomics Vaccines Inc. to synthesize the genes of the new virus strain and supplied these synthesized genes to the US CDC."
The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) is also collaborating with the companies and US CDC.
New technologies developed by the collaboration “could speed preparations for making diagnostics and vaccines for the new strain, if these prove necessary,” Power said.
The contracts with the companies “ensure that what they do is open source,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, said in a conference call on Friday. The companies are working on a synthetic vaccine, though a recombinant vaccine “is also an option,” he said.
Information coming out of China also suggests the new virus is susceptible to Roche’s flu treatment oseltamivir and GlaxoSmithKline’s zanamivir, Frieden said.
The seed vaccine is likely to be tested in ferrets and could potentially be sent to manufacturers within four weeks, according to coverage from the New York Times .
The virus as of Monday evening has killed seven among 23 cases in adults and one child in at least four provinces in China. The child had a mild case and fully recovered. And perhaps more importantly for tracking its spread, the virus has not been transmitted person-to-person and is “not necessarily spreading widely,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of CDC, said in a media call on Friday.
The cases so far appear to be caused by human to poultry contact. “Direct contact with live poultry in China is the main risk factor,” Frieden said, noting the slim likelihood that the virus would spread to the US.
He also noted a travel advisory for US travelers to China has not been issued as the CDC already recommends the avoidance of contact with birds and other animals in China for travelers.
Since the SARS outbreak in late 2002, the CDC said its relationship with the China’s CDC has been “robust and long-term,” and the US CDC has an office to help monitor flu and sequence the flu strains, Frieden said.