With swine flu spreading in Mexico and reaching 50 cases in the United States, health officials are racing to stop the new flu strain and the solution could be in a Connecticut lab. A vaccine could be available in a few weeks.
Scientists at Protein Sciences in Meriden is looking at cells that could be the key to a swine flu vaccine
The work has been going on for only a few days, but the company has been involved in pandemic viruses for years, CEO Dan Adams said,
The Federal Drug Administration approved the company's H5N1 Hong Kong "Bird Flu" vaccine in 1998 and it was immediately given to about 200 health care workers and researchers.
When the word of the swine flu started to spread, Protein Sciences was already working with a top researcher in Mexico, where 149 Mexicans have died from the swine flu and hundreds of others have become ill.
"She's been able to provide us with a lot of information that may be even better than what we're getting from our sources in the United States," Adams said.
Unlike other drug manufacturers, Protein Sciences doesn't need the live swine flu virus to create the vaccine. Instead, it uses the virus' genetic code to create a highly purified protein that is mixed with salt water to make the vaccine.
“We have the genetic code and, if we had nothing else, we could develop the vaccine from that. But the CDC is providing us with additional information that will make it easier for us, and a little less risky, in the sense that we want to make the right product,” Adams said.
Scientists are hoping to get that information from the Centers for Disease Control within the next few days.
Meanwhile, work on the vaccine has already begun and they hope to have a swine flu vaccine being tested in the Quality Control Laboratory in about six weeks.
“We, at six weeks, would be vastly faster than any other people who are in the flu field,” Adams said.
“I thought immediately when I started seeing the news about the swine flu Friday, that we should begin building a vaccine and be prepared,” Jason Hollister, a molecular biologist working on the project, said. “This could fizzle out or it may boil up. No one knows at that point yet.”