The emergence of the highly pathogenic strain of avian flu (H5N1) in South East Asia was accompanied by concerns about a potential pandemic influenza outbreak. Prevention and control in such a scenario would depend on the availability of large quantities of a highly effective vaccine at short notice.
"In the event of an influenza pandemic, vaccination will play a key role in its control. Therefore, availability of a sufficient number of vaccine doses will be critical. In this project, we will exploit the potency of the adjuvant [a substance added to a vaccine to increase the body's immune response to it] to potentiate immunity and to reduce the antigen dose required per vaccination," explains Dr Luuk Hilgers, the scientific coordinator of the project at Nobilon International.
As combining a powerful new adjuvant with a novel H5N1 vaccine has produced encouraging results, the project will now move on to developing the vaccine in phase I and II clinical trials. These are expected to take place within two years.
If the trials are successful, the consortium will then carry out further clinical development, and eventually market the vaccine.
"At the end of the project, we expect to have a prototype (concept) flu vaccine with proven efficacy and safety in humans, ready for further development to control an influenza pandemic," Dr Hilgers explained.
The European Commission has funded many research projects targeting influenza, providing funding of over €90 million since 2001. Such research will continue under FP7, and the Commission recently announced the first projects in this area that will receive funding under FP7. Of 44 influenza-related proposals received by the Commission, 11 have been pre-selected for funding. The projects selected are set to receive some €27 million between them, and address issues such as diagnostics, drug and vaccine development and capacity building.
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