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September 15, 2010 at 10:13 AM

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PATH grant aims to improve shelf life of pandemic flu vaccines

Posted by Kristi Heim

Seattle global health nonprofit PATH received a $5.2 million contract from the federal government to develop stable pandemic influenza vaccines, which could help extend the shelf life and stockpile more of the vaccine.

The contract from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, could lead to an additional $4.2 million in funding from BARDA in the project's second phase.

PATH described the project as a collaboration with two subcontractors, Arecor, based in the UK, and Aridis Pharmaceuticals, in Silicon Valley.


Dexiang Chen, who oversees technical, preclinical and clinical activities for PATH's Vaccine Stabilization and Microneedles program, is principal investigator on the BARDA contract.

PATH will focus its work on extending the product shelf life of pandemic influenza vaccines.

"A longer shelf life will decrease the turnover of vaccine stockpiles, reducing costs and boosting confidence in the distribution of fully potent vaccines at an outbreak's point of origin--a key strategy for containing the virus and preventing a potential pandemic," said Dexiang Chen, PATH senior technical officer and principal investigator for the BARDA contract work.

The seasonal flu virus causes 250,000 to 500,000 deaths and up to 5 million severe illnesses each year, but a highly virulent pandemic strain has the potential to kill millions, especially in poor regions.

While the current stockpile of influenza vaccines has an expiration of about a year, PATH's research aims to extend the shelf life to at least five years. To do that, researchers will explore freeze-drying, foam drying, and spray-drying technologies.

The U.S. government has about 23 million doses of H5N1 subunit or split vaccines, but no stockpiles of live H5N1 vaccines because their shelf life is too short.

Influenza vaccines need to be stored between 2 and 8 degrees Celcius, which is a challenge to maintain when it comes to getting them out to remote, rural settings. Without refrigeration or clinics nearby, in some countries the vaccines might be delivered in a plastic cooler on the back of a motorcycle. Another goal of the project is to improve the vaccine's stability so that it isn't damaged by temperature extremes in the last mile, particularly excessive heat.

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