29 June 2009

The University of Queensland has produced the first Australian batch of a new candidate vaccine against the H1N1 “swine flu” virus.

Professor Anton Middelberg, from UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said the vaccine matched the virus found in the first US case of swine flu, a 10-year-old boy in San Diego.

Professor Middelberg said the new technology, from US firm Protein Sciences Corporation (PSC), was able to produce vaccines more quickly than conventional methods based on eggs.

“This vaccine has been produced using the latest cell culture vaccine technology from the US and contains no egg protein,” Professor Middelberg said.

“We only received the genetic construct from PSC two weeks ago and we have been able to produce the vaccine already, which is an amazing achievement.”

UQ recently signed a landmark research agreement with PSC to bring the technology to Australia, with a focus on collaborative research into better manufacturing methods.

Dr Manon Cox, Chief Operating Officer of PSC, said its seasonal FluBlok vaccine contains three-times more hemagglutinin (HA) protein than Australia’s normal seasonal vaccine, and as such, could provide enhanced protection for those at risk of severe influenza.

Connecticut-based PSC has used cell technology to develop a new seasonal vaccine called FluBlok and has just been awarded a $45 million US Government contract to produce the vaccine.

“More than 5000 people have received FluBlok (the vaccine) in clinical tests, which has shown that the medicine works and is safe,” Dr Cox said.

The technology relies on making vaccine in cell culture instead of eggs and draws on approaches already used to make life-saving products such as antibodies and cancer vaccines.

“This technology puts eggs back in the frying pan,” Professor Middelberg said.

“Most importantly, the vaccine can be made quickly when a new virus emerges or when it changes, and we can turn manufacturing on and off as needed. So we can choose to make vaccine just for those at risk of severe illness.”

Dr Linda Lua, Director of UQ’s Protein Expression Facility, said the batches of vaccine made at UQ would be used only for research purposes as they were not registered for use in Australia.

“What we hope to do with the technology is not only get it registered so that Australians can use this vaccine, but also to improve the manufacturing technology to make it even faster,” Dr Lua said.

“This will allow us to be better positioned next time Australia is confronted with a pandemic situation, or in case swine flu turns nasty.”

Media: Professor Anton Middelberg (07 3346 4189 or 0434 603 093; int +61 7 3346 4189), Dr Manon Cox at Protein Sciences Corp (int +1 203 2493898 note this a US East Coast time zone), or Andrew Dunne at UQ Communications (07 3365 2802 or 0433 364 181; int +61 7 3365 2802 or +61 433 364 181).