NEWS SCAN: H5N1 in Nepal, grant for multi-vaccine delivery, chicken pox death, polio declaration, semi-synthetic artemisinin

Apr 11, 2013

Nine H5N1 outbreaks in Nepal lead to 10,000 dead poultry
Nepal has confirmed nine outbreaks of H5N1 avian flu involving more than 10,000 poultry in February and March, according to a report today from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The outbreaks ranged from 6 birds killed by the virus in a backyard flock of 15, to 1,800 dead birds in a commercial flock of 4,000. All told, 3,982 poultry died from the disease and the remaining 6,919 birds were culled to stop H5N1 spread, for a total of 10,901 poultry dead or destroyed, according to the report. The onset of the outbreaks ranged from Feb 12 to Mar 30. Affected premises are being disinfected and other control measures implemented, the report said.
Apr 11 OIE report

NIAID awards $3.5 million grant for multi-vaccine delivery system
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has awarded Inovio Pharmaceuticals of Blue Bell, Pa., a $3.5 million grant to further develop its next-generation DNA vaccine delivery device capable of simultaneously administering multiple synthetic vaccines via skin surface electroporation. Inovio is collaborating with the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to develop a device that would facilitate rapid vaccination of US troops against multiple infectious diseases and protect civilian populations from pandemic threats, according to an Inovio press release yesterday. Inovio President and CEO J. Joseph Kim, PhD, said, "This new device would provide a means to rapidly and painlessly deliver multiple vaccines simultaneously to large groups of people. . . . Moreover, the advancements from this project will enable rapid and efficient delivery of Inovio's SynCon vaccines for universal flu, HIV, and other infectious diseases on a mass scale." The grant will also enable Inovio to use its delivery device to address biodefense vaccine targets and to advance a Lassa virus vaccine through to clinical studies.
Apr 10 Inovio press release

Ohio reports chicken pox death in healthy teen
Health officials from Ohio and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today described a chicken pox death in an unvaccinated, previously healthy 15-year-old girl, an event that underscores the importance of catch-up varicella vaccination in older kids. As detailed in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the girl was admitted to the hospital in May 2009 with rash and recent onset of fever and shortness of breath. She was treated with intravenous acyclovir, broad-spectrum antibiotics, and antifungals. However, she had pneumonia and a healthcare-acquired infection, and her respiratory function declined, despite mechanical ventilation. She died 21 days later. She had received other childhood vaccines but lived in an area with low rates of varicella vaccination. Though Ohio has varicella vaccination requirements for school, the girl's grade was not covered. The state is adding additional requirements to cover all grades by 2022. The authors wrote that the case demonstrates that severe varicella infection can strike even healthy kids, and those without evidence of immunity should receive two doses or a second dose if they have received only one.
Apr 11 MMWR report
In another varicella development, national law firm Anapol Schwartz, based in Columbus, Ohio, today announced a settlement on behalf of a child who had a rare reaction to the chicken pox vaccine, according to a statement from the firm. The settlement, made through the US Court of Federal Claims Office of Special Masters, is worth $9 million and has a lifetime payout of $40 million. The statement said the young boy has a permanent disability and an intractable seizure disorder. It said the injuries stem from encephalopathy, brain atrophy, and cardiac arrest related to a rare reaction to the varicella vaccine. Court documents show the damage award was handed down on Jan 16. The case didn't involve contaminated vaccine or manufacturer liability, so the case hinged only on causation and proof of the child's damages, the statement said.
Apr 11 Anapol Schwartz statement
US Court of Federal Claims settlement document

More than 400 sign polio eradication declaration
More than 400 scientists, doctors, and other global experts launched the Scientific Declaration on Polio Eradication today, saying that putting an end to polio is achievable and calling for full funding and implementation of the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018, developed by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). The signers of the declaration, currently numbering 437, urge governments, international organizations, and society at large to do their part to realize GPEI's goal. "We have the tools we need and a time-limited opening to defeat polio. The GPEI plan is the comprehensive roadmap that, if followed, will get us there," said Walter Orenstein, MD, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center at Emory University and former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Immunization Program. The declaration is housed on Emory's Web site.
Apr 11 Global Health Strategies news release
Full text of declaration
Declaration landing page

Sanofi to begin producing semi-synthetic artemisinin to treat malaria
Drug maker Sanofi will begin large-scale production today of a partially synthetic version of artemisinin, a usually naturally derived key ingredient of the front-line antimalarial drug artesunate, based on a process discovered by University of California, Berkeley (UC-Berkeley) professor of chemical engineering Jay Keasling, PhD, and colleagues. The drug is the first triumph in the new field of synthetic biology, which involves inserting a dozen or more genes into microbes to make them produce drugs, chemicals, or biofuels. The process created by Keasling and colleagues at Amyris, the company he cofounded to bring the process to market, uses baker's yeast and a chemical source of singlet oxygen, thus avoiding the need for specialized photochemical equipment, according to a letter to Nature today that details the sequence of genes they introduced into the yeast. "Because all intellectual property rights have been provided free of charge, this technology has the potential to increase provision of first-line antimalarial treatments to the developing world at a reduced average annual price," the team writes in Nature.
Apr 11 UC-Berkeley news release
Apr 10 Nature letter

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