Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Cheshvan 5766 - November 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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An Israeli Answer to Avian Flu?

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

An Israeli biotech startup company is developing a flu vaccine that is expected to be effective against all flu viruses, both present and future. It could provide an effective answer to the widely feared avian flu threat.

The company is named BiondVax and its approach is based on research by Prof. Ruth Arnon, who is the developer of Teva's Copaxone drug for treating multiple sclerosis which has proven to be a major success.

According to a report in Globes, the company has begun trails of its products for a number of types of avian flu. BiondVax hopes that, if avian flu develops into an epidemic, it will be ready with a relevant vaccine of proven effectiveness.

To develop a vaccine against flu, the current approach is to isolate the particular strains that are expected to be the cause of flu in the upcoming flu season, weaken that virus, and use the weakened strain as a vaccine that will allow people's bodies to develop the antigens to fight it before they are actually sick with the disease. The flu virus, however, changes rapidly. That is why each year requires a new virus specifically for that year's strain. Although epidemiologists are pretty accurate at predicting which strains will attack, their success is not guaranteed. By the time a vaccine is produced, new and different types of flu virus may very well appear.

BiondVax has managed to isolate significant properties that are shared by all flu viruses. Using this knowledge, it created a synthetic virus that attacks those properties. This approach, it is hoped, will allow it to be effective even against flu strains not yet in existence.

According to its current schedule, the universal vaccine will first be available in three to five years. If there is an epidemic of avian flu, the company will try to accelerate development.

The current avian flu virus can migrate from poultry to human beings, but one person cannot infect another and therefore there has as yet been no epidemic. The mortality rate of those infected is very high. It is feared that this virus will mutate into one that can also be transmitted from one person to another, but so far this has not happened and there is no way to know if or when this will happen.

The countries in which cases of avian flu have been reported have been taking strong steps to try to contain the disease among the poultry. The strong publicity and worldwide concern, plus the dangers to their own populations, have forced countries to take the problem very seriously. China recently said that it had destroyed six million birds.

A vaccine designed to protect against avian flu is already on the market, but it provides protection only against the current strain. Although it is likely, there is still no guarantee that the current vaccine will be effective against the mutated avian flu epidemic. The BiondVax approach may provide a more secure answer.

BiondVax CEO Dr. Ron Babekof told Globes that his company is now beginning clinical trials on humans. Because the virus is so deadly, this is not an easy task.

He said that his company has filed requests with the US National Institutes of Health for funding for their research, but they are proceeding even before they have heard from them. "We want to be sure that, if they need us, we'll be ready in time," he said.

He hopes that the US authorities will be helpful because of the great need for his drug. "We're planning to launch the universal vaccine in 3-5 years," he said. "If an epidemic occurs, we'll of course redouble our efforts, and it will happen much faster."


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