It has been reported in the United States that an American company has produced the first vaccine against influenza A H1N1 (swine flu).
The company based in Connecticut, Protein Sciences Corporation, won a $35-million government contract to develop an influenza vaccine using insect cell technology and Protein Sciences's director Dan Adams says the first batch of about 100,000 doses were produced last week and the manufacture of the vaccine continues.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the initial $35-million contract to Protein Sciences, which could be extended for another five years to reach $147 million.
According to Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insect cell technology has advanced in recent years to a point where it could help meet a surge in demand for U.S. based vaccines for seasonal and pandemic flu.
Swine flu, which emerged in Mexico in April, has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization which says swine flu has to date killed 231 people worldwide and infected more than 52,000 people in 100 countries.
The rapid spread of the new influenza strain prompted scientists around the world to race to develop a seed strain which is a necessary first step in developing a vaccine using either chicken eggs or mammalian cells.
Experts have warned that the virus could very well mutate during the southern hemisphere's flu season before returning north in a more lethal form in the autumn - this was the case in the deadly 1918 flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 20 to 50 million people around the world.
The process used by Protein Sciences produces the flu vaccine by infecting caterpillar cells with a baculovirus carrying the gene for hemagluttinin, a molecule that sticks out of the surface of the influenza virus and scientists say by using this method, vaccine candidates, clinical investigational lots, and commercial-scale vaccine production may be produced faster than by using traditional vaccine production methods.
Mr Adams says the method does not need a seed strain in order to develop a vaccine - they apparently worked with the genetic code from a dead virus sent from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which means the vaccine manufacturing process is much quicker and is also safer as the caterpillars have no association with man or other animals, denying any chance for their cells to learn how to propagate human viruses.