Taiwan conducts successful bird flu vaccine tests in animals; human trials next

Taiwan has conducted successful animals tests on a vaccine that could protect people against a yet-to-emerge pandemic strain of bird flu, and hopes to conduct human trials and be ready for mass production in two years, officials said Monday.

Several other countries worldwide are working to develop vaccines that could be used against a pandemic flu strain.

The successful tests came after 17 months of research, starting from "ground zero" because the island did not have previous experience in the field before, said Pele Chong, who leads the vaccine development program at the National Health Research Institute.

If a pandemic bird flu strain emerges, experts have predicted it could take six months before inoculations such as the one Taiwan is developing could be adjusted to provide full protection.

However, vaccines that defend against the existing H5N1 bird flu virus are expected to provide a lesser degree of immunity.

The virus remains hard for humans to catch, but experts fear it could mutate into a form that passes easily among people, potentially igniting a pandemic.

The virus has claimed at least 163 lives worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry farms in late 2003, according to the World Health Organization.

So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds.

Taiwan has not reported any human cases from H5N1, but several fowl smuggled from China tested positive in 2005, reports AP.

A production line will be built by the end of the year in Taiwan and formal production is expected to begin in late 2008, following months of human clinical tests, they said.

A small-scale clinical test on animals has proven the safety and efficacy of the locally developed vaccine against H5N1, said Su Yi-jen, an institute official.

Taiwan hopes to eventually produce up to 80,000 doses of the vaccine a month, institute officials said.

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