NEWS SCAN: Food safety grants, universal flu vaccine, Benin's polio drive stalls

Jun 3, 2009

Three states win FDA grants to boost food-testing capacity
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced yesterday that it awarded $350,000 grants to Arkansas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to fund Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) laboratories. In return for the grants, the states may be required to analyze food samples collected by the FDA or other agencies in case of a large-scale contamination event. In Arkansas, the funds will enable the state health department to increase its ability to test for toxic or unknown substances, support national surveillance efforts, and boost response capacity. In Nebraska, the funds are earmarked to allow the agriculture department to add more testing backup and capacity. In Wisconsin, the agriculture department will use the funds to add reserve testing capacity for FERN during events that threaten the nation's food supply.
[Jun 2 FDA press release]

Vical receives patent for universal flu vaccine technology
Vical, a biopharmaceutical company based in San Diego, announced today that it received a US patent for use of influenza virus gene sequences in a "universal" vaccine, designed to protect against seasonal and emerging pandemic flu strains. The company's DNA vaccine involves portions of the virus that are consistent among different strains: nucleoprotein (NP) and ion channel protein (M2). The company said it derived its gene sequences from flu strains that have circulated over the past 10 years. Vical has developed an H5N1 flu vaccine, with support from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), that showed broad protection against other strains in preclinical studies. In 2007 Vical received a $6 million NIAID grant to develop a process to speed DNA vaccine production. In early May, the company said it had signed an agreement with the US Navy to speed the development of a DNA vaccine against the novel H1N1 virus.
[Jun 3 Vical press release]
[Jun 14, 2007, CIDRAP News story]

Healthcare strike stalls Benin's polio vaccination drive
A polio vaccine drive in Benin that was set to begin May 29 has been indefinitely suspended because of a health worker strike, according to Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Polio eradication efforts lost ground in 2008, with African countries bearing the brunt of the disease. A World Health Organization official said Benin, Burkina Faso, and Cote d'Ivoire have had new cases since the last immunization campaign in February and March. Health officials said the timing of the vaccine drive is crucial, because the approaching rainy season will make it difficult to reach some children and will intensify virus circulation.
[May 29 IRIN story]

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