| NIAID Taps Chiron to Develop Vaccine Against
H9N2 Avian Influenza*
Award Part of NIAID Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Program
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID),
part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has issued a task
order under an existing contract to Chiron Corporation of Emeryville,
CA, for the production of an investigational vaccine based on an
H9N2 strain of avian influenza virus that has infected humans and
has the potential to trigger a modern-day pandemic.
This project, which is part of the NIAID Pandemic Influenza Preparedness
Program, is the second recently announced by NIAID that supports
the development and production of a candidate vaccine against a
pandemic strain of avian influenza. The other NIAID project targets
the H5N1 strain that has resurfaced in Asia after an outbreak earlier
this year. In 2004, H5N1 has caused 27 deaths.
In 1999 and 2003, an H9N2 influenza strain caused illness in three
people in Hong Kong. Scientists are concerned about H9N2 and other
emerging types of avian influenza viruses because as they spread — most
commonly through poultry — they continually mutate, increasing
chances that they may infect humans, evade the body’s immune
response and become more lethal. Of greatest concern is that these
ever-changing avian viruses could develop the ability to spread
from person to person, resulting in a fast-moving, global pandemic.
“Given the poor condition of public health systems in many
developing regions and the ubiquity of modern air travel, the consequences
of a widespread outbreak of avian influenza in humans could be severe,”
says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of NIAID. “Information
generated under this task order will be important for preparing
our nation and the world against new influenza viruses with pandemic
Chiron Corporation will produce the H9N2 vaccine at its manufacturing
facility in Siena, Italy. The company will prepare different dosages
of the vaccine, which is based on an inactivated strain of the H9N2
virus developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some dosages will contain Chiron’s MF59 adjuvant — a
substance designed to boost the vaccine’s protective effect.
The company will produce up to 40,000 doses of vaccine with and
without the MF59 adjuvant for clinical trials that will be conducted
by NIAID. These trials are currently slated for early next year.
“Because avian influenza viruses like H9N2 have not previously
circulated widely among humans, we are likely to have limited, if
any, immunity against them. Understanding through clinical trials
the safety of the vaccine and the dosage level that will generate
a protective immune response is critical,” says Linda Lambert,
Ph.D., who oversees the clinical influenza research program funded
by the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at NIAID.
“By comparing the vaccines with and without the MF59 adjuvant,
we can determine if the adjuvant significantly augments the protective
effects of the vaccine, enabling us to use lower doses and thereby
extend the vaccine supply.”
Dr. Lambert says that this task order follows one of the key tenets
of the NIAID Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Program that supports
working with both U.S. and international companies to develop and
evaluate the safety and effectiveness of vaccines against influenza
viruses with pandemic potential. Results from this project will
not only provide important public health information, but may also
help make new types of influenza vaccines available to the public.
“A major component of our strategy is to partner with private-sector
companies around the world to develop and clinically test promising
new vaccine technologies,” she says. “The more studies
we can also do with novel types of avian influenza strains such
as H9N2 and H5N1, the more likely it is that we may begin to identify
patterns that allow us to counteract all of them.”
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health, an
agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIAID
supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat
infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted
infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and illness from potential
agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on transplantation
and immune-related illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, asthma
and allergies. Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related
materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.
*Note: This press release was originally posted
as "Contract Awarded to Develop Vaccine Against H9N2 Avian Influenza,
Contract Part of NIAID Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Program" and,
in order to make it more accurate was amended. Further, the first
paragraph of the release has been amended to read, "issued a task
order under an existing contract." Paragraph four has been amended
to read, "Information generated under this task order..." and paragraph
eight has been amended to read, "Dr. Lambert says that this task order..."
For further information, call 301-402-1663.