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Melbourne at cutting edge of fight to find bird flu vaccine

Australia will have enough medication by 2007 to treat half of the nation's population in the event of a bird flu outbreak//.

Melbourne researchers will know by the end of the month if they have developed the world's first bird flu vaccine. Prof. Terry Nolan, head of the vaccine project, said a non-active strain of bird flu virus was used in the vaccine project, in which 400 volunteers received two doses three weeks apart last October and November.

The trial was conducted—under contract from the Federal Government to develop the vaccine—by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute at the Royal Children's Hospital and the research company CSL in Parkville. No adverse side effects were reported, but formal assessments of reactions were still to be completed, Prof. Nolan said.

Blood tests have been sent to London for analysis and the project team could have the data back by the end of this month.

Two other projects in France and the US had been trying to develop a vaccine for the virus. Prof. Nolan said the French project was a couple of months ahead of Melbourne and preliminary results were encouraging. The strain used in the Melbourne project was taken from a bird flu victim in Vietnam and neutralised to prevent it from being contagious.

According to Dr Rachel David of CSL, the vaccine is similar to the seasonal flu vaccine. The vaccine was expected to be ready for registration in Australia by August 2007, Dr David said.

The Federal Government negotiated the purchase of 1.8 million courses of the influenza antiviral Relenza last month to add to the national stockpile in preparation for a pandemic.

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