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Brazilian Boost for Bird Flu Vaccines

Brazilian scientists have developed a modifying agent which could make vaccines for the H5N1 bird flu virus cheaper, more effective, and easier to produce//.

The development could help developing countries at the forefront of any bird flu pandemic struggling to access and afford the vaccines and drugs produced and stockpiled by developed countries.

Researchers from the Butantan Institute, based in S?o Paulo, Brazil, claim that an adjuvant called Monophosphoryl Lipid A (MPLA) was effective in boosting the immune response to strains of Vietnamese and Indonesian avian flu virus in mice.

An adjuvant is a chemical substance that boosts a vaccine's effectiveness by increasing its ability to stimulate the immune system.

According to Isaías Raw, director of the institute, MPLA reduced the amount of antigen — virus protein — needed to cause an immune response to one quarter of that previously required, reducing the cost of vaccine production.

Raw says were a pandemic to occur now, the adjuvant would enable 80–100 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine to be produced by the end of April.

Clinical trials in humans are planned, with results expected at the end 2008.

John Oxford, scientific director of Retroscreen Virology Ltd and professor of virology at UK-based Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, said the adjuvant "looks to be a most interesting and practical step forward that will be needed in the face of a pandemic."

He also stressed the importance of increased hygiene and isolation procedures as well as the building a stockpile of antiviral drugs.

Marie-Paule Kieny, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Initiative for Vaccine Research, cautioned that results were still only available for mice and that it was too early to assess the vaccine's effectiveness in humans.

But she welcomed the development and said the WHO had initiated colla
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