NEWS SCAN: Gain-of-function debate, planned flu vaccine plant, hospital-onset C diff, polio in Pakistan

Mar 27, 2013

Vaccine advocate says gain-of-function research still needs full airing
A leading vaccine-research advocate says in a Nature commentary that further research designed to render viruses more transmissible should be stopped pending a thorough public discussion and independent assessment of the risks. Simon Wain-Hobson, PhD, chair of the Foundation for Vaccine Research in Washington, DC, criticizes the recent decision by leading flu researchers to lift their voluntary moratorium on "gain of function" (GOF) research. The moratorium was announced in January 2012 amid a controversy over studies involving lab-modified H5N1 avian flu viruses that could spread by air among ferrets. Hobson argues that many flu scientists engaged in self-justification during the moratorium instead of listening and fostering debate. He questions the virologic basis for GOF research, suggesting that the H5N1 experiments used "artificial-selection systems" that dictated outcomes unlikely in nature. If researchers generate a highly pathogenic and transmissible virus, he asserts, difficult policy decisions will immediately arise, and a leak or a small outbreak would trigger "crippling lawsuits." "Let's be clear: the end game could be viruses more dangerous than the Spanish flu strain," Wain-Hobson writes. "H5N1 GOF work—indeed all virological GOF work—should be suspended until virologists open up and engage in public discussion of their work and the issues it raises." He suggests a conference of all stakeholders, like the Asilomar meeting on recombinant DNA research in the 1970s.
Mar 27 Nature commentary

GSK, Texas A&M to build flu vaccine facility under HHS program
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS) yesterday announced joint plans for a $91 million facility to make cell-based influenza vaccines as part of the nation's pandemic preparedness efforts. The plant will anchor one of three Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADMs) that the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is establishing to provide medical countermeasures for major public health threats. In a press release yesterday, GSK and TAMUS announced HHS's approval of plans for the new center, to be built in Bryan-College Station, Tex.. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who hosted yesterday's announcement at the State Capitol in Austin, said the facility is expected to generate $41 billion in spending over the next 25 years and create more than 6,800 jobs. The center will give GSK the ability eventually to make flu vaccines based on a proprietary cell line called [1]EB66, with the aim of supplying 50 million doses within 4 months of an outbreak. In addition, the plant will support GSK's existing flu vaccine manufacturing in Quebec, Canada, and Dresden, Germany. The Texas A&M Center for Innovation is headed by Dr. Brett Giroir, MD, TAMUS vice chancellor for strategic initiatives, along with a team of experts in various fields, according to the release. HHS first announced establishment of the three CIADMs in June 2012.
Mar 26 GSK press release
Jun 18, 2012, HHS press release about CIADMs

Study: Hospital-onset C diff may raise risk of death in kids significantly
Children who contracted hospital-onset Clostridium difficile infections had an almost sevenfold greater risk of dying compared with hospitalized children who didn't contract the disease or those who contracted community-onset C difficile, according to a large multicenter study yesterday in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Philadelphia researchers analyzed data from 41 US children's hospitals on 5,107 patients with C difficile infection and 693,409 unexposed patients. Of those, 4,474 infected kids were matched to 8,821 unexposed controls. The investigators found that mortality rates were similar between community-onset patients and controls (odds ratio, 1.20; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.62-2.35). For hospital-onset C difficile, however, the odds ratio relative to unexposed controls rose to 6.73 (95% CI, 3.77-12.02), a statistically significant increase. In addition, the hospital-associated version led to much longer hospital stays (21.6 vs 5.6 days) and much greater standardized costs ($93,600 vs $18,900) compared with community-onset C difficile.
Mar 26 Clin Infect Dis abstract

Pakistan security force blocks attack on polio vaccination team
Pakistani authorities thwarted a plan to attack a polio vaccination team near Karachi yesterday, arresting nine suspects, The News International, a newspaper based in Karachi, reported today. Pakistan Rangers, a paramilitary force that contains members of the Pakistan Army, interrupted the attempt in the Sultanabad area of Karachi and raided five different areas of the city, netting 30 suspects and recovering arms from some. Some of the armed militants were intimidating the polio team with aerial fire, but the troops intervened, according to the report.
Mar 27 News International story
In other developments, some female polio vaccination workers in the Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, located in the northwestern part of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan, are refusing security escorts, The Express Tribune, a Karachi-based newspaper, reported today. One of the vaccinators told the Tribune that having police accompany vaccinators makes them more visible and susceptible to attacks. The report said plainclothes security forces are closely monitoring immunization campaign activities.
Mar 27 Express Tribune story

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