UK biotechnology company, Acambis, this morning said is developing what could be a breakthrough in the prevention of influenza – a vaccine that confers permanent protection against all strains of the virus and may help prevent pandemics. Shares in the company were rising steadily on the London Stock Exchange this morning.

Influenza is a major global concern and its impact on public health was thrust into consciousness last year after the US flu vaccine supply was halved following the identification of manufacturing defects at supplier Chiron’s Liverpool, UK, facility [[06/10/04b]]. The country was left clambering to replace its stockpile with only two other flu vaccines approved in the USA at the time - one from Sanofi-Aventis and the second from MedImmune - and, although the USA did manage to secure additional supplies from these suppliers it was still left with a 39 million-dose shortfall. In the end, though, the flu season proved mild and leftover doses had to be destroyed [[06/05/05f]].

And the potentially devastating effects of the virus have never more in the spotlight, with scientists fearing an imminent pandemic of avian flu. Current flu vaccines have to be given annually, but Acambis and researchers from Belgium's Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology hope to generate a universal vaccine that would protect against both A and B strains of influenza and would not require annual changes to the formulation to cope with viral mutations. Gordon Cameron, Chief Executive Officer, said: “This programme gives Acambis the opportunity to enter one of the most significant vaccine markets - influenza. The recent influenza vaccine shortages have highlighted the inadequacies of current influenza vaccines and their manufacturing methods. Through our influenza A vaccine candidate, we aim to improve protection against influenza A and to ensure a ready supply of vaccine.”

Shares in Acambis had risen almost 4% during trading this morning to 239 pence.