Current Events Medical Studies

Big Pharma May Have Bet Wrong in Flu-Shot Race

“GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Novartis AG, two of the world’s biggest vaccine makers, may have bet on the wrong technology in the race to develop a better flu shot.” This is how a recent article (“…Bet Wrong…“) by John Lauerman of Bloomberg News begins.

Helped by a $221 million grant from the U.S. government, Novartis is investing $600 million to build a cell-based flu-shot plant in North Carolina. Glaxo is receiving $275 million of U.S. government funding and plans to build a plant in Pennsylvania. Why may all these investments be going to waste?

Protein Science Corp. is close to gaining approval for using DNA to speed up the influenza vaccination development process.

“Protein Sciences inserts flu genes into cells from a corn- eating caterpillar. The cells are then induced to make proteins that when injected into humans trigger a protective immune response. In the technique Glaxo and Novartis are developing, mammal cells are used to generate whole flu viruses, which are then modified to make influenza vaccine….

The former Sanofi official [David] Fedson estimated that factories around the world using Protein Sciences’ recombinant DNA approach could make two doses of vaccine in three months for 3 billion people, almost half the world’s population. That’s 10 times as much as could be made in conventional egg-based flu- shot plants, he said.”

With worries of influenza pandemic increasing, this kind of innovation is a good sign for public health.