MedImmune races ahead to deliver on H1N1 contracts

The U.S. has ordered 195 million doses of swine flu vaccine from five different developers. While many companies are reportedly having trouble growing enough of the H1N1 virus to produce ample doses of a vaccine, AstraZeneca seems to be ahead of the race to deliver on its $150 million contracts. AZ's MedImmune will run new studies to test for side effects next month, but said it plans to have 14 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine read to go in October--and tens of millions more doses waiting to be bottled, the Associated Press reports.

FDA Officials said today that vaccine makers are only getting about 30 percent as much vaccine from the H1N1 strains as they normally do when developing the seasonal flu vaccine. But MedImmune said that it hasn't been hampered by a low yield--in fact, the developer boasts that it can mass produce 200 million doses of its H1N1 vaccine. And its delivery technology, MedImmune execs explained, will do well if states decide to implement mass immunization programs in schools as officials are now considering. "I am pleased to report that we don't have trouble. We have a strain which is producing very good quantities of virus," said Ben Machielse, operations chief. "We have it five months after the first report of H1N1. That shows this technology could be very useful to be scaled up."

MedImmune's vaccine is made from a weakened flu virus rather than a neutralized one as a live virus produces a stronger immune response. The company expects its H1N1 vaccine to work much like its FluMist seasonal flu spray, which required one dose rather than two to provide full protection.

But the technology does have its drawbacks. The Gaithersburg, MD-based biotech will only be able to deliver about 40 million doses of its vaccine because it does not have enough sprayers to offer more. The company says it is in talks with the FDA to find other ways to deliver the immunization. The vaccine also poses risks for (and is thus not recommended for use by) asthma patients, young children or those with weakened immune systems.

- more from Reuters on US efforts here and here
- and Reuters report on MedImmune
- here's what the AP had to say