Time Cites Bird Flu Vaccine as Top Medical Development of 2007

December 21, 2007

Time Magazine this week cited the approval of a bird flu vaccine earlier this year as the top medical development in 2007.

Key testing of the vaccine, the first ever approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent bird flu, was done by doctors and nurses at the University of Rochester Medical Center. More than 750 people in the Rochester area have taken part in studies of bird flu vaccines at the University.

Crucial testing of the vaccine was led by John Treanor, M.D., professor of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology. His team on the University’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, together with scientists around the nation, showed that large doses of the vaccine are safe and effective at protecting people against bird flu.

The vaccine, made by Sanofi Pasteur Inc., has been purchased by the federal government and is being stockpiled for distribution by public health officials if needed.

“We feel very honored to have been able to contribute to this important effort, and we are especially grateful to our volunteer study subjects, without whom none of this research would have been possible,” said Treanor. “Because of the willing participation of Rochesterians, we have something we can really use to fight off a bird flu pandemic, if it ever occurs.”

Discover Magazine also noted Treanor’s research as part of its top medical developments of the year. That publication cited a study by his group earlier this year that showed the promise of a new type of flu vaccine, grown not in eggs but instead in insect cells. That step could save the nation crucial months in producing vast amounts of flu vaccine on short notice.

More than half of the 340 people worldwide who have been infected with the H5N1 type of bird flu have died, making the flu at least 20 times as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed 50 million people. Thus far the number of deaths has been low because H5N1 hasn’t acquired the ability to spread efficiently from person to person. If the virus does gain the ability to spread quickly among people, the vaccine would provide early protection until a vaccine tailored to the pandemic strain of the virus could be developed and produced.

Rochester is continuing its leading role to fight both bird flu and “regular” flu. Earlier this year, the University was awarded $26 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to establish the New York Influenza Center of Excellence. The center is part of a network recently established by NIAID to protect people against seasonal flu and future flu pandemics.

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