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WHO Investigates Cases Of H1N1 Drug Resistance In U.S., Britain

The WHO is looking into reports that patients with “severely suppressed immune systems” in Britain and the U.S. developed resistance Tamiflu, which is used to treat the symptoms of H1N1 (swine flu), a spokesman for the organization said Tuesday, Reuters reports.  

“Britain’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) said five cases have been confirmed in Wales of patients infected with H1N1 resistant to oseltamivir – the generic name of Roche and Gilead Sciences Inc’s antiviral drug Tamiflu,” the news service writes. Last week, the CDC reported four cases of Tamiflu-resistance in patients with H1N1 at a hospital in North Carolina.

According to WHO spokesman Thomas Abraham, both sets of patients experiencing Tamiflu resistance involved “people with severely compromised immune systems,” Reuters writes. “We’ll see if we need to put any additional measures in place to protect this vulnerable group of patients. It might mean that they are at more serious risk than others,” Abraham said (Nebehay, 11/25).

The WHO is also investigating whether a mutated form of the H1N1 strain reported by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health last Friday “causes more serious illness by allowing the virus to go deeper into the respiratory system,” CBC News reports. “A similar mutation has been reported in Brazil, China, Japan, Mexico, Ukraine and the United States, WHO said,” according to the news service (11/24).

In a second story, Reuters examines a Chinese health official’s recent warnings that the country be alert for the mixing of the H1N1 virus with the H5N1 (bird flu) virus, resulting in a more deadly virus. “Zhong Nanshan, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases in China’s southern Guangdong province, said the presence of both viruses in China meant they could mix and become a monstrous hybrid — a bug packed with strong killing power that can transmit efficiently among people,” the news service writes, adding the WHO “warned on Tuesday that H5N1 had erupted in poultry in Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, posing once again a threat to humans” (McIntyre, 11/25).

Novartis Opens Vaccine Plant In U.S.; Production Of Flu Vaccine Years Away

Also on Tuesday, Swiss drug maker Novartis opened a vaccine-manufacturing plant in North Carolina “designed to make influenza vaccines without relying on decades-old technology that employs millions of chicken eggs to grow viruses,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “However, under the current timeline, the plant still needs to be licensed by the Food and Drug Administration and likely won’t be producing flu shots for the U.S. market until at least 2013. But Novartis officials said the plant could be brought online in two years if licensed under emergency procedures,” the newspaper writes (Dooren, 11/24).

In a second story, the Wall Street Journal examines the U.S.’s recent attempts to boost vaccine output: “After more than five years and about $2 billion in government spending, the U.S. is still struggling to modernize and speed up production of vaccinations against deadly pandemics like swine flu. The system is undermined by a lack of manufacturing plants and by decades-old technology that takes six to nine months to make flu vaccine,” the newspaper writes.

“The new Novartis plant, heavily financed by the U.S. government, represents one of the biggest steps in 60 years toward modernizing flu-vaccine manufacturing in the U.S. It uses new technology to grow flu viruses in vats of cells derived from dog kidneys, and uses these viruses to make vaccine” – a process Novartis says “could shave four to six weeks off the time needed to make each shot,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “The plant has other advantages: If a deadly avian-flu virus hit, it could kill scores of chickens and endanger the supply of eggs needed to make vaccine the old-fashioned way. Cell-culture technology removes that risk.”

The article includes further information about the cell-culture technology and comments about vaccine development by Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose “institute is spending $262 million this year on influenza research, including research on a new generation of vaccines that can be made without having to grow a virus,” the newspaper writes (McKay/Whalen, 11/25).

200M H1N1 Vaccines To Go To Africa, WHO Announces During Meeting Of African Leaders

In related news, during a meeting of African leaders about H1N1 on Tuesday, the WHO announced that it would donate 200 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine to African countries, Guardian Newspapers reports (Folarin, 11/24).

Representatives from the WHO and leaders from Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Ghana, Tanzania and Niger are participating in the five-day inter-country workshop to determine “the best approach to deploy the new H1N1 pandemic influenza vaccine and other ancillary supplies,” This Day reports (Nwezeh, 11/24).