Caterpillar Cells to Host Growth of New Flu Vaccine

Recent approval of a new type of flu vaccine means another step forward with vaccinations, as well as better preparedness in the case of a pandemic. The drug, called FluBlok, is made using a different process than current vaccinations, thus speeding up its manufacturing process.

Current vaccines are made by injecting flu strains into millions of chicken eggs, where they grow before being extracted and inactivated. The process can take up to nine months, and those with egg allergies may have a reaction to it; it’s also avoided by vegans.

FluBlok uses virus proteins injected into army worm cells instead of chicken eggs. It boasts very quick production time, about three weeks from isolating the genetic code of the virus to manufacturing into vaccines. It also protects against 44.6 percent of all circulating influenza strains, not just the few strains for which it was produced.

“The push for a cell-based vaccine began in 2006 as part of a plan to prevent a worldwide epidemic,” said Dr. Sarah G. Khan, a retail pharmacist and pharmaceutical expert for DietsInReview.com, who recommends FluBlok for those with an egg allergy. “Cell based vaccines can be frozen and saved for later use and there is also potential to create vaccine in times of an epidemic or a shortage.”

The new vaccine will be needed in the case of a large influenza outbreak, and is superior to current vaccines because it is not dependent on an egg supply. Fears of bird flu devastating egg production and in turn vaccine supplies are no longer an issue. It also contains no preservatives and side effects were the same as egg-based vaccines.

A small amount of FluBlok will be available this flu season, and more supplies will be available for 2013-2014. However, it is only approved for adults aged 18 to 49 who are not pregnant or nursing.

“FlubBok was administered to almost 2500 people in two randomized placebo-controlled trials. Up to this point, I see FluBlok as comparable to other flu vaccines currently available,” said Dr. Khan.

This is the second animal-cell-based vaccine approved for use by the FDA. The first, Flucelvax, is made using cells from dog kidneys. Both offer a faster start up because they do not require the whole virus to be grown and extracted, only a small part of the influenza virus.

As with other vaccines, FluBlok must be changed each year to match the currently circulating strains, making its part in the population’s defense against influenza only an incremental step. Scientists are still on the quest to find a vaccine that protects against the flu more than 5o to 60 percent of the time, which is what current strains do. And despite vigorous efforts by the government encouraging the shot, only around 40 percent of Americans choose to inoculate themselves against influenza.

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