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Vietnam Plans Human Trial of Bird Flu Vaccine

Vietnam plans to start its first human trial of a locally-made H5N1 bird flu vaccine as early as next month, using 20 to 30 volunteers, said health officials in the communist country. The drug trial, to be carried out with US government technical assistance, will be the latest of several global efforts to develop a vaccine for mass production, with research also going on in the United States, Europe and Asia.

The news comes as a new wave of bird flu sweeping Vietnam has killed a 20-year-old man, infected four other people and triggered more than 100 poultry outbreaks nationwide since last month. "Preparations for the clinical test of a human vaccine have been basically completed," said Nguyen Tran Hien, director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE) in Hanoi.

"Twenty to 30 volunteers will be chosen to test an H5N1 vaccine produced in Vietnam." Hien said he expected testing to start as early as next month, pending health ministry approval, with the trial expected to wrap up next year. In the tests, subjects would not be exposed to H5N1 -- the viral strain that has killed 191 people worldwide since 2003 -- but would be given the vaccine to look for early evidence of safety and test their antibody response. US experts would provide technical assistance, said US Health Attache Michael Iademarco, adding Washington had granted one million dollars to Vabiotech, a company spun off from the institute.

The Vietnam trial is one of several efforts worldwide to find a vaccine that could be mass produced in case of a pandemic. Last month Indonesia's health ministry said US company Baxter Healthcare would in July start clinical trials of a bird flu vaccine in Singapore and Hong Kong, using a strain of the virus found in Indonesia. "There are many candidate vaccines, and some have been approved for stockpiling in emergency use," said Iademarco. But he said the long-term challenge was to "develop the capacity for rapi
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