French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis has become the first company in decades to win approval for a new polio vaccine.

The new product, called monovalent oral polio vaccine 1 or MOPV 1, has been approved in France and will form an integral part of the World Health Organisation’s bid to eradicate polio transmission in Egypt. Current polio vaccines raise immunity against three separate strains of the virus, types 1, 2 and 3, but the newly approved product guards only against type 1.

The WHO, which has the stated aim of eradicating polio transmission by the end of 2005, asked Sanofi-Aventis to develop the vaccine because it believes that it will be more efficient in stopping type 1 polio than the trivalent vaccine. Types 2 and 3 polio are no longer in circulation in Egypt, according to the WHO.

Sanofi-Aventis said its Sanofi Pasteur subsidiary had produced 50 million doses of the vaccine and would make them available for mass vaccination programmes scheduled to start in May. Sanofi Pasteur will also supply vaccine to a manufacturer in India that will fill and package for local use.

Earlier this year, the United Nations convened a meeting of health ministers from eight African countries after it emerged the number of polio cases in Africa increased last year, and the virus has spread to new countries. Last year, polio was endemic in just six countries around the world - India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Niger and Egypt – but since than has spread to countries such as Sudan, Chad and Burkino Faso, raising fears that its reach is increasing once again.