"This is slide-rule technology," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. "We need to be dealing with a modern vaccine."
British-based Glaxo and Sanofi have announced plans to build or expand factories, which could add hundreds of millions of doses of the pandemic flu vaccine to the global supply. But the added capacity won't be available for several years.
To stretch the supply, researchers are experimenting with the use of a drug additive, known as an adjuvant, that could boost the effectiveness of the vaccine. The adjuvant works by making the vaccine more easily perceptible by the immune system.
The concept isn't new. Childhood vaccines against tetanus and bacterial meningitis contain adjuvants. Most trials of adjuvants use alum, a mixture of aluminum salts.
Emeryville, Calif.-based Chiron Corp., which has also made millions of H5N1 doses for the U.S. stockpile, is testing an adjuvant derived from shark oil that it now uses in seasonal flu shots in Europe. The adjuvant isn't approved for use in the U.S.
Glaxo will announce plans today to launch clinical trials using different adjuvants with experimental avian flu vaccine.
Sanofi has already tested a bird flu vaccine with an adjuvant that produced a "good immune response" and would meet European standards for licensing seasonal flu vaccines, Lavenda said.