Novartis' novel H7N9 avian influenza vaccine has hit targets in a Phase I trial, demonstrating strong efficacy in protecting against the disease.

Data from the 400-patient trial showed that 85% achieved a protective immune response after two doses of the powerful MF59-boosted vaccine; without this adjuvant just 6% achieved the same level of response.

The vaccine was produced via full-scale cell-culture manufacturing technology as opposed to traditional egg-based methods, using a mammalian cell line rather than chicken eggs to grow virus strains, thereby potentially accelerating vaccine production.

Indeed, this method has enabled the company to "offer a protective solution for a potentially deadly pandemic virus within a few months after the emergence of the H7N9 virus," said Andrin Oswald, Division Head, Novartis Vaccines.

Currently, the only options for the treatment of H7N9 infection, which first emerged in China in March 2013 and has since claimed 45 lives, are Gilead/Roche's Tamiflu (osteltamivir) and Biota/GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza (zanamivir), though their specific efficacy in fighting avian flu remains unclear.

Novartis said it would submit full data from the trial to a peer-reviewed journal for publication "in the near future".