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imugenes bird flu advantage

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    CSIRO's Dr Chris Prideaux says that in order to provide a viable alternative to culling, it is important to quickly develop effective vaccines that can prevent and control outbreaks of bird flu.

    "Previously influenza vaccines have had three principal problems to overcome: the potential for the disease to re-emerge through the use of 'live' vaccines, the cost of delivering the vaccine to commercial flocks and the need to be able to differentiate between vaccinated and infected birds," Dr Prideaux says.

    "Most current vaccines are produced from live inactivated viruses. These vaccines can result in the virus persisting in the flock and potentially re-emerging to cause disease later on. Compounding this problem is that during an avian influenza outbreak, diagnostic tests cannot distinguish vaccinated (uninfected) birds from those affected by the disease."

    The vaccine currently under evaluation by CSIRO delivers only a portion of the flu genetic material, instead of the whole virus, thus making it possible to distinguish between vaccinated and infected birds.

    "This means a vaccination program could be undertaken to protect whole areas or countries whilst still maintaining surveillance for disease outbreaks and ensuring human safety," Dr Prideaux says.

    Imugene's Managing Director, Dr Warwick Lamb, says the experimental vaccine was developed by CSIRO using Imugene's Adenoviral Vector Delivery System.

    "The major advantage is that vaccines generated using this delivery system are much safer than live attenuated vaccines and very cost effective for mass administration," Dr Lamb says.

    "In contrast to live attenuated vaccines, only a small portion of the genetic material will be used, therefore there is no risk that the vaccine could mutate or combine with naturally occurring influenza viruses to produce new strains, or recombine with human influenza strains which would have devastating global consequences."

    Solving the 'high cost' problem associated with other forms of controlling the disease, the Imugene Adenoviral Vector Delivery System can be administered to large numbers of birds via drinking water.

    "Administering the vaccine via the birds' drinking water greatly reduces the cost and effort needed to implement large scale protective vaccination," Dr Lamb says.

    The new trial vaccine is specific to the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, but can be easily and quickly adapted to protect against other strains of the virus.


    From the data presented, it appears that emergency vaccination is a sensible option if there is evidence of the introduction of a highly transmissible AI virus into a densely populated poultry area, or whenever the epidemiological situation indicates that there could be massive and rapid spread of infection. Emergency vaccination should also be considered when birds of high economic value (e.g. pedigree flocks) or rare (endangered) birds are at risk of infection. It is clear that vaccination represents a tool to aid eradication, and will be a successful tool only if coupled with movement restrictions and increased biosecurity.

    Considering the advantages and disadvantages of the products and diagnostic tools that are available currently, if no recombinant products are licensed in a country, heterologous vaccination rather than homologous vaccination should be practised in emergency situations. The main reason for this is that it would enable the differentiation of vaccinated from naturally exposed birds through the development/application of an appropriate test. At present only the anti-neuraminidase based test has been validated and is available. In our opinion however, this test represents a starting point on which future developments of the ‘DIVA’ strategy can be based. The development of novel candidate vaccines and of additional tests that enable the detection of field infection in vaccinated populations should be a priority for the pharmaceutical industry and for research institutions because, for all the reasons listed above, vaccination is already an option for the control of AI.

    If a country has access to licensed recombinant products, the use of these vaccines is acceptable taking into consideration the immune status of the population against the vector because seropositivity impedes the replication of the vector virus and therefore the establishment of immunity. The issue of the replicating capacity of the vector in different species must also be addressed.

    In conclusion, recent events including devastating epizootics in densely populated poultry areas, public health concern on animal welfare issues and the introduction of novel technology to vaccinology have encouraged consideration of alternative control strategies for OIE List A diseases that were unthinkable only a few years ago. This has also been supported by the development of reliable, sensitive and specific diagnostic companion tests. Countries, areas and enterprises at risk of infection should imperatively implement surveillance programmes and have contingency plans in case of a disease outbreak, which may include vaccination. If the latter is considered as an option, the contingency plan must, among other issues, foresee the establishment of licensed vaccine banks that enable the ‘DIVA’ strategy to be enforced thus safeguarding animal health, animal welfare and international trade.

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