Another vaccine “story” makes the wires, this time from Dynavax, a Berkeley biotech company. The story is pretty typical of the genre:
Drug companies typically design their seasonal flu vaccines to generate antibodies that neutralize two proteins, hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, on flu viruses. But because these two proteins are prone to mutate, new vaccines tailored to their changing characteristics usually have to be made every year.
That variability could prove devastating if the bird-flu virus suddenly mutates into a form that spreads quickly among people instead of just birds. By the time vaccines could be manufactured to target the new virus, thousands of people could die.
However, scientists at Dynavax Technologies in Berkeley believe they have found a possible solution. They have developed a vaccine that targets two other common flu proteins, the nucleoprotein and matrix protein, which tend to remain stable. That way, even if some bird-flu virus proteins mutate, Dynavax scientists say, their vaccine still would be effective against the proteins that don’t change. (Mercury News)
As the story points out, there are now 28 vaccines from 13 different companies “under development.” The Dynamax vaccine isn’t even in clinical trials. The “news” about their effort comes from an oral presentation at the Second International Conference on Influenza Vaccines for the World in Vienna that showed it was effective in mice and baboons.
The Mercury News story is well done, even if it isn’t really news. It surveys the many current efforts to produce an effective bird flu vaccine. It also notes that even if some of them turn out to be effective (and most won’t), we are a long way from having a vaccine:
As promising as such developments are, however, the world would be woefully unprepared if a bird-flu outbreak were to occur in the near future, health authorities warn.
Even if companies significantly expanded their manufacturing operations over the next three years and ran their production lines 24 hours a day, it wouldn’t be sufficient to meet the threat, according to a study in September by the World Health Organization.
“If an influenza pandemic were to occur,” the study concluded, “the potential vaccine supply would fall several billion doses short of the amount needed to provide protection to the global population.”
Surely that is the pertinent point. Instead the story’s headline (“Dynavax hopoing to kill many flus with one shot”) and lede (“On the hunt for a vaccine against bird flu, biotech companies are coming up with leads on something even better: a universal vaccine that works against all kinds of flu.”)
Another vaccine story. And we lived happily ever after.