Scientist focus on vaccine production research

Researchers around the world are focusing their efforts on developing ways to quickly produce vaccines should a pandemic occur.

Rino Rappuoli, the global head of vaccines research for Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, said vaccine developers have access to new techniques that can improve pandemic preparations. Rappuoli authored a companion paper to a controversial study on H5N1 avian influenza that was recently published in the journal Science, according to USA Today.

Researchers have greater access to fast and increasingly inexpensive machines today that are capable of sequencing newly evolved viruses. Instead of having to ship a live virus to a vaccine manufacturer, scientists can use email to send genetic code.

Short strands of genetic code are available from commercial DNA synthesis companies. Scientists can purchase these strands and then create a virus "seed" by stitching them together in the correct order. The seed can be grown quickly in cell cultures to produce vaccines. Current methods involve injecting the actual virus into eggs to grow.

"The hurdle will be only to change the regulatory process," Rappuoli said, USA Today reports.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said that some of the new developments in vaccine production are being implemented.

Fauci envisions the creation of libraries of potential viruses. He said powerful new computers can make it possible to computationally sequence every strain of influenza that could emerge. When a new virus appears, a data bank could have the seed ready so it does not need to be grown in the proper medium, saving time in an emergency.

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