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Race begins to develop flu vaccine

LONDON -- With H1N1 influenza now an official pandemic, the race is on among drugmakers to produce a vaccine.

GlaxoSmithKline said Thursday after the World Health Organization declared a global flu epidemic it would be ready within weeks to begin large-scale vaccine production. Sanofi-Aventis also said it had started working on its own version. On Friday, Swiss pharma giant Novartis announced it had created an experimental vaccine that has not been tested in people. Novartis' vaccine was made via a cell-based technology that may prove faster than the traditional way of making vaccines, which relies on chicken eggs.

Many rich countries like Britain, Canada and France signed contracts with pharmaceuticals long ago, guaranteeing them access to pandemic vaccine.

WHO and others estimate about 2.4 billion doses of pandemic vaccine could be available in about a year.

The likely scramble for vaccines will leave many people in poorer countries empty-handed.

So far, H1N1, also known as swine flu, has been mostly detected in developed countries like the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia.

"We do not know how this virus will behave under conditions typically found in the developing world," WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said Thursday.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said officials were concerned people in poorer countries and those fighting other health problems like malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition and pneumonia might be more susceptible to swine flu.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2009 A4

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