Biotechs trumpet pandemic vaccine deals and data as the H7N9 bird flu threat grows

After a summer lull, the H7N9 bird flu virus is once again spreading across China, with a recent surge in activity pushing the total number of cases past the 200 mark. With evidence of human-to-human transmission also mounting, the need for effective vaccines is growing.

An electron micrograph of influenza A H7N9--CDC image (public domain)
An electron micrograph of influenza A H7N9--CDC image (public domain)

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is trialing a Sanofi ($SNY) vaccine in combination with adjuvants from GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Novartis ($NVS), and a number of smaller companies are also developing H7N9 vaccines. Vivaldi Biosciences' research efforts received a boost this week when NIH entered into a cooperative R&D agreement to assess its H7N9 vaccine in preclinical tests. Data from the preclinical research will go toward an application to trial the vaccine in human volunteers.

Vivaldi strengthened its vaccine assets in October through the acquisition of technology from Baxter Healthcare ($BAX). The acquired intellectual property, which covered live attenuated influenza vaccines in which nonstructural protein 1 (NS1) is fully deleted, is now part of the platform at the heart of the collaboration with NIH. Vivaldi hopes to show that by modifying NS1 it can produce vaccines that generate a strong immune response but are still weakened for safety.

Vivaldi's nasal delivery system could allow mass self-administration in a pandemic. BiondVax Pharmaceuticals' vaccine is injected but holds a trump card--one shot could potentially protect against all pandemic strains. The Israel-based biotech reported this week that its universal flu vaccine candidate matches all six existing potentially pandemic strains. Shares in the company jumped 7% following the news, Globes reports.

- here's Vivaldi's release (PDF)
- read Globes' article
- catch up on the H7N9 news
- and reports of transmission between humans