NEWS SCAN: H5N1 death, filovirus vaccine contract, cheap anti-malarial production, Taliban clears polio vaccination

Jan 18, 2012

Cambodian H5N1 patient dies
The 2-year-old Cambodian boy confirmed 2 days ago by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the first H5N1 avian flu case-patient of 2012 has died, according to Xinhua, China's state news agency, today. "The boy passed away at 2:00 a.m. [today] due to critical condition," said Sok Touch, director of communicable diseases with Cambodia's health ministry. The boy, from Banteay Meanchey province in northwestern Cambodia, first had symptoms Jan 3 and was hospitalized on Jan 9 at Angkor Hospital for Children, where he died. The country has now had 19 confirmed cases of H5N1 since 2005, 17 of which have been fatal, according to WHO statistics.
Jan 18 Xinhua story

DoD awards $15 million contract for Ebola, Marburg vaccine candidate
The Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded a contract worth about $15 million to Paragon Bioservices, Inc., of Baltimore, to develop a vaccine against filoviruses, which include Ebola and Marburg, the company said in a release yesterday. Paragon will employ its virus-like particle technology and work with experts at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Harrisvaccines in Ames, Iowa. The initial phase of the contract for developing and testing Paragon's "VEE [Venezuelan equine encephalitis] Replicon Particle Trivalent Filovirus Vaccine" is worth about $15 million but could double if further incentives are met. In October 2010 the company was awarded a $5 million DoD contract to develop vaccines against Ebola and Marburg, an effort that will run parallel to the new contract work.
Jan 17 Paragon press release
Oct 21, 2010, Paragon press release

German team discovers cheap method to produce anti-malarial
Using a by-product of the manufacturing process, German researchers have uncovered a simple way to produce large amounts of the anti-malaria drug artemisinin cheaply without extracting the key ingredient from plants, according to their report in the international edition of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and Freie Universitat Berlin used artemisinic acid, which is produced during isolation of artemisinin from the sweet wormwood plant (Artemisia annua), which grows mainly in China and Vietnam. During isolation, this by-product is produced in 10 times the volume of the active ingredient. Moreover, artemisinic acid can easily be produced in genetically modified yeast, because it has a much simpler structure. "We convert the artemisinic acid into artemisinin in a single step," said MPI's Peter Seeberger in an institute news release. "And we have developed a simple apparatus for this process, which enables the production of large volumes of the substance under very controlled conditions." Seeberger said 800 of the photoreactors that the team developed could produce enough artemisinin to meet the world's anti-malarial needs and could be ready for use in 6 months, alleviating a global shortage of the drug and driving costs down.
Jan 16 Angew Chem Int Ed Engl abstract
Jan 17 MPI news release

Taliban signals cooperation with polio vaccination activities
Following a request from Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to allow medical teams to administer polio vaccine to children, a Taliban spokesperson has told CNN that it will permit the activities near the volatile border area with Pakistan. The Taliban said insurgents have been told to allow the vaccinations to take place as long as aid workers don't administer the immunizations at government facilities or other resources, CNN reported yesterday. Yesterday Karzai appealed to the Taliban, religious, and community leaders to allow vaccination activities. Afghanistan is one of the countries where polio transmission has not been stopped, and the country's health ministry reported a threefold rise in the number of polio cases in 2011 compared with 2010.
Jan 17 CNN report
In other polio developments, Rotary International, a humanitarian group that works on polio eradication efforts, announced yesterday that it has topped its $200 million fundraising goal to pay for new measures to battle the disease, according to a press release. The funding level, reached by Rotary clubs around the world, was spurred by a $355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and was achieved despite a stagnant global economy, according to the group. The funds will be targeted to support vaccination activities in countries where the disease continues to paralyze children.
Jan 17 Rotary International press release

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