NEWS SCAN: H5N1 research freeze, CDC weighs lab review, H1N1 vaccine effectiveness in Scotland, TB coalition

Jun 26, 2012

Some seek early resumption of studies on more-contagious H5N1 viruses
Some leading influenza researchers and the head of the US government agency that funds much of their work are interested in an early lifting of the current voluntary moratorium on experiments that increase the transmissibility of H5N1 viruses, a step that's likely to rekindle the controversy over such studies, according to a Nature news report published today. Flu researchers announced the moratorium in January amid the controversy over publication of two studies involving lab-modified H5N1 viruses that showed increased transmissibility in ferrets. In December the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended publishing the studies minus key details, but in March the board reversed its stance. The full versions of both studies have since been published, the second one, by Dutch researcher Ron Fouchier, PhD, last week in Science. At a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting in February, experts agreed that the research moratorium could be lifted after funders and regulators work out biosafety and biosecurity guidelines for it. With the WHO and US government expected to release such guidelines in a few weeks, researchers will soon be able to argue that that condition has been met, the Nature story says. "We have heard from several researchers that they would like to lift the moratorium sooner rather than later," said Fouchier. Also, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Nature he would like to see the research resume before the final US policy is published months from now. But some scientists, such as Ilaria Capua, DVM, PhD, of Italy, a signer of the moratorium, worry about the potential "unchecked proliferation" of such research, including in "politically volatile regions."
Jun 26 Nature story
Related Jun 21 CIDRAP News story

CDC considers ordering outside biolab safety review
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering an outside evaluation of safety at its biosafety level 3 (BSL 3) lab at Atlanta headquarters, based on a recent news report that aired internal concerns about airflow problems at the facility, USA Today reported yesterday. The initial Jun 13 report, also from USA Today, cited employee concerns about a February incident in which air from a lab blew into a "clean" corridor where visitors weren't wearing protective gear. The report also raised concerns about engineering projects that reversed airflow in the facility. The concerns have prompted an investigation by the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to today's report. CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told USA Today yesterday that he understands how the CDC overseeing its own lab safety gives the appearance of a conflict of interest, but he added that the building has an "extraordinary" safety track record. He said the agency is considering having an outside group such as the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases or Canadian government lab safety officials evaluate the lab's safety.
Jun 25 USA Today story

Scotland finds H1N1 vaccine effectiveness to be 77%
Vaccination for 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu proved effective in preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza as well as in reducing the number of emergency hospital admissions from influenza-related disorders in a nationally representative retrospective cohort study from Scotland published today in Lancet Infectious Diseases. The records of 38,296 persons of all ages receiving H1N1 vaccinations (99% getting Pandemrix and 1% Celvapan) from Oct 21, 2009, to Jan 31, 2010, were studied and compared with a cohort of unvaccinated persons. There were 924 emergency hospital admissions and 71 deaths in the vaccinated population for influenza-related morbidity, compared with 5,207 admissions and 579 deaths in the unvaccinated population over the nearly 24 million person-days of observation. The vaccine's effectiveness in preventing such hospitalizations was 19.5% (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.8%-34.7%). Its effectiveness in preventing laboratory-confirmed H1N1 flu in the entire cohort was 77.0% (95% CI, 0.8%-34.7%). The authors note that this figure is slightly higher than the 72% effectiveness for the vaccine found in separate case-control studies conducted in the UK and in the European Union.
Jun 26 Lancet Infect Dis study
Accompanying commentary extract

Drug companies, research groups, Gates Foundation form TB coalition
Seven pharmaceutical companies and four research institutions, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have launched a partnership to hasten the discovery of new treatments for tuberculosis (TB). The partnership, known as the TB Drug Accelerator (TBDA), has a long-range goal of creating a TB drug regimen that cures patients in only 1 month, compared with the current 6 months. The lengthy recovery period contributes to a 20% to 30% dropout rate, according to a release yesterday from Global Health Strategies (GHS), an international consulting firm on health issues. To do that, the TBDA will first target the discovery of new TB drugs by collaborating on early-stage research. Participating drug companies—Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, and Sanofi—will share data from targeted sections of their compound libraries with each other and with four research institutions: the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Texas A&M University; and Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Carl Nathan of Weill Cornell said in the release, "The TB Drug Accelerator is a historic experiment in innovative collaboration." The Gates Foundation has provided nearly $20 million for the venture, which has begun screening of drug candidates.
Jun 25 GHS news release

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