Tag Archives: Dr. Anthony Fauci

H5N1 Flu Papers Published, but Moratorium Continues

The highly controversial report from Dutch flu researcher Dr. Ron Fouchier on creating a form of H5N1 avian influenza that’s airborne transmissible between mammals finally appeared this afternoon in Science magazine, after months of dickering over whether this paper would get published and what information it would include.

But, with much of the content of both Dr. Fouchier’s paper, as well as a report on a similar study by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka that appeared last month in Nature, already fairly well known and widely discussed, perhaps the biggest news in today’s reports came in some of the related papers published by Science and in an update about the H5N1 research moratorium made during a press conference yesterday.

courtesy Plaskov, Wikimedia Commons

At the height of the mammalian-transmissible H5N1 debate last winter, Dr. Fouchier and Dr. Kawaoka and several other flu researchers declared a voluntary, temporary stop to any further research on the transmissibility or pathogenesis of H5N1. Speaking at a press conference on June 20 organized by Science magazine to discuss today’s package of H5N1 reports and analysis, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (which funded the transmissible H5N1 work), said, “The reason why you have not heard any announcement about the moratorium is that we are still struggling with the criteria for the next phases of experiments. We are working hard right now to get processes in place where we could have broad general criteria for the kinds of experiments that could be done.” A meeting is scheduled in July in New York that will bring together a worldwide group of influenza researchers and surveillance experts who will try to produce those criteria, Dr. Fauci said. The meeting “will discuss in detail the kinds of approaches we can have to try to expedite as quickly as possible the lifting of the moratorium.”

One of the new studies that accompany the Fouchier paper today is an analysis led by researchers at Cambridge University who used the findings on H5N1 mutations that contribute to mammalian transmissibility to develop a mathematical model to calculate the risk that such viruses could appear in nature. Their conclusion: Current best estimates indicate that the needed panel of mutations could evolve within a single mammalian host, making the possibility of a respiratory-drop transmissible strain of H5N1 virus occurring in nature “a potentially serious threat.” But a more quantifiable estimate of the risk—a specific number—is not yet possible, they said.

“We now know that we are living on a fault line, an active fault line,” when it comes to the potential for H5N1 to become mammalian transmissible in the real world, said Dr. Derek J. Smith, head of the Cambridge group, during yesterday’s press conference. “Now what we need to know is how likely it is.”

Another part of today’s H5N1 package dealt with steps that could be taken right now to speed up influenza vaccine production in response to a newly emerged pandemic strain, something that warrants its own blog post.

—Mitchel Zoler (on Twitter @mitchelzoler)

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Filed under Health Policy, IMNG, Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine

Quickening Pandemic Flu Vaccine Production

If a strain of avian H5N1 influenza that readily spread from person to person were to appear in the real world, the great fear is that it would produce a deadly pandemic to dwarf what happened in 1918.

The best defense against flu pandemics are vaccines, and the most recent experience with a global flu pandemic, in 2009, highlighted the gaps that existed in getting vaccine quickly made in large amounts. Three years ago, despite the U.S. government marshaling all its infectious disease-fighting muscle, the effort wound up delivering most of the vaccine too late to matter. The pandemic peaked in October 2009, while the vaccine supply didn’t hit its stride until sometime in December.

Novartis influenza-vaccine plant in Holly Springs, N.C./courtesy Novartis

In a report published today in Science as part of its H5N1 flu package, Dr. Rino Rappuoli, head of vaccines research for Novartis, spelled out seven steps that could hasten vaccine production for a newly appearing pandemic flu. The two most novel moves involve having vaccine manufacturers prepare in advance synthetic “vaccine seed” viruses and also adopting new ways to quantify viral antigens, a process that alone took about 2 months in 2009, he said. Adopting these two technological innovations could transform the vaccine-producing process “from a mid-20th century system … into a 21st century system of instantaneous electronic information exchange followed by immediate production.”

The modernized system would mean sequencing a newly isolated pandemic virus in the field and then — instead of shipping the virus — just sending gene sequences, followed by replicating the hemagglutinin gene at a remote site, putting the new gene into a waiting scaffold vaccine virus, and launching vaccine production.

If these two changes had been in place in 2009, “the vaccine would have been available in large quantities before the peak of viral infection,” Dr. Rappuoli said in his paper.

More importantly, speaking at a June 20 press conference Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the National Institutes of Health, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, had already begun to move on this, adopting “the fundamental principles of bringing influenza vaccinology into the 21st century.” Steps already taken along the lines of what Dr. Rappuoli suggested carry the potential for “a significant change right now” in the time needed to get out a pandemic vaccine, Dr. Fauci said.

He particularly cited NIH studies underway using an immunoadjuvant to expand the coverage potential of stockpiled H5N1 vaccine, a step that would “markedly accelerate availability.

“We are right now in a much better position [to distribute pandemic vaccine quickly] than we were in 2009 when we had vaccine available only after the peak of the H1N1 pandemic,” Dr. Fauci said.

—Mitchel Zoler (on Twitter @mitchelzoler)

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Filed under Health Policy, IMNG, Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine, Primary care

Dr. Fauci Talks about AIDS with Stephen Colbert

Dr. Anthony Fauci (NIAID photo)

In case you missed it, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was a guest on the March 29, 2011 episode of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”

Early in the interview host Stephen Colbert asked Dr. Fauci to forecast the next “hot, newest” infectious disease. “I want to get my graphics department working on the next thing that’s going to scare the poop out of these people,” Mr. Colbert said, as the studio audience chuckled in the background. “Turkey herpes? What’s it gonna be?”

Then the discussion turned serious, with Mr. Colbert suggesting that the public attention on AIDS treatment and prevention has waned in recent years. He asked Dr. Fauci: “Why aren’t we talking about it if it’s no big deal?”

Dr. Fauci said that AIDS remains a “serious problem” in the United States, with 56,000 newly diagnosed cases each year. “It’s been that way for the last 10 or 15 years,” he said.

“Why are so many people getting it? Because we have abstinence education…” Mr. Colbert asked.

“That rarely works,” Dr. Fauci said, noting that the majority of Americans practicing high risk behavior lack access to AIDS education campaigns and to good health care. In 2010, he added, about half of new AIDS infections in the United States were among African Americans.

To view the entire interview, click here.

— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)

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