Developing a pandemic vaccine is a race against time, but the world’s leading drugmakers stand ready to produce an H1N1 pandemic vaccine when requested, Mike Boyd, acting director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) has said.

The potential scale of the pandemic influenza threat posed by the virus will require a well-coordinated effort between multilateral organisations, governments around the world, public/private partnerships and industry,” Mr Boyd said yesterday, speaking at a meeting held between more than 30 vaccine manufacturers and WHO and United Nations (UN) leaders in Geneva.

Manufacturers have not so far been asked to produce a vaccine specifically against H1N1. The WHO's ad hoc policy advisory working group on influenza A vaccines, also reporting yesterday, has revised its estimate of the earliest date at which companies would be ready to produce a vaccine from end-May to mid-July.

The H1N1 outbreak shows that the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Influenza Surveillance Network works, making essential information and materials available to all manufacturers quickly and with a minimum of bureaucracy. Its rapid functioning is essential for a timely response to any pandemic threat and must not be compromised, said Mr Boyd, speaking on behalf of the IFPMA Influenza Vaccine Supply international task force, which represents 16 leading research-based flu vaccine manufacturers.

At the meeting, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the manufacturers, from both developed and developing countries, agreed to continue work to develop a strategy to assure that any eventual swine flu vaccine was made available in “a spirit of equity and fairness.”

"We have a very serious commitment from companies in the north and in the south to work with WHO,” said Dr Chan, after the meeting. She added that although WHO is not a funding agency, she took it as part of her job to advocate for the poor. "In the name of solidarity, I have reached out to drug and vaccine manufacturers. We will look at different mechanisms to make sure poor communities and countries are not left out,” said Dr Chan, adding that she would meet with vaccine manufacturers individually to work out strategies to ensure pandemic vaccine availability.

The research-based vaccine and pharmaceutical industry is very conscious that countries differ widely in their level of economic development, added Mr Boyd. “Our members have voluntarily put in place a range of measures to help developing countries to access antiviral medicines and vaccines, including substantial donations to WHO stockpiles, tiered pricing adjusted to countries’ ability to pay and voluntary licensing agreements with suitable local producers in developing countries. Some IFPMA member companies have also indicated to the WHO their readiness to reserve a portion of their vaccine manufacturing capacities for supply to developing countries,” he said.