USA-based MedImmune has formed an alliance with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease to develop influenza vaccines and help the US government prepare a stockpile for a potential pandemic outbreak of the virus. The news on September 28 was received positively by investors, pushing the firm’s shares up 5.5% to $33.32 in morning trading on the Nasdaq.

Under the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, the company and NIAID researchers will work together to manufacture and evaluate different versions of MedImmune’s attenuated, live intranasal flu vaccine for potential use against various different strains, including H5N1, more commonly known as avian flu.

H5N1 is growing in notoriety as experts fear this particular strain will likely be the source of a next pandemic outbreak if the virus mutates from one that infects primarily birds to one that is contagious in humans, potentially killing hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. Commenting on the deal, James Young, president of R&D at MedImmune, stated: “With the occurrence of several avian or ‘bird’ influenza cases in Asia this year, the development of a pandemic vaccine is a proactive step toward protecting the health of our nation. An intranasal pandemic vaccine may help facilitate and expedite influenza vaccinations for more Americans in the event of a pandemic outbreak.”

MedImmune’s reverse genetics technology will be used to develop these vaccines, thereby allowing researchers to modify potentially-harmful sections of flu viruses, as well enabling the rapid production of attenuated vaccine strains and, consequently, vaccine production. The firm says it has also offered licenses for its technology to both US and international health authorities and other groups developing flu vaccines to help strengthen defences.

Currently, the USA is hoping to lay in a stockpile of around 40 million doses of pandemic flu vaccine, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. To this end, the government most recently awarded a major $100 million contract to Sanofi-Aventis for a vaccine based on the H5N1 strain [[16/09/05a]].