San Diego Company May Have Answer For Swine Flu Vaccine - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

San Diego Company May Have Answer For Swine Flu Vaccine

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Developing a conventional vaccine for the new strain of swine flu could take months before any shots are ready for testing in volunteers. But one local biotech company says it can create a vaccine in a fraction of the time, and time may be running out.

As the swine flu outbreak spreads, the potential for a full-blown pandemic mounts.

"If this virus does result in a human pandemic in the next weeks and months, we are going to be in a world that is going to need a lot of vaccine that it's not going to have," Dr. Martin Blaser of the NYU Department of Medicine said.

Time is of the essence, and one San Diego biotech firm that develops vaccines, Vical, says it has the answer.

Conventional vaccines are produced using parts of the actual virus grown in chicken eggs, but Vical's unique technology uses genetic sequencing to develop a DNA-based vaccine - one the company developed and successfully tested last year for bird flu.

"We have laid out a pathway for the avian flu, and we can just replicate this pathway for swine flu," Vical President and CEO Vijay Samant said.

What also sets Vical's technology apart is the amount of time required to develop and manufacture the vaccine.

"We can make our vaccine in 6 to 9 weeks, whereas the conventional technology will take 6 to 9 months. At that point in time, the influenza may have circled the globe. So the speed is critical," Samant said.

What's also critical is the funding for a vaccine. Vical's president says it would require from $200 million to $500 million to establish the feasibility of a vaccine. After that, manufacturing the hundreds of millions of doses that would be required would cost another $1 billion to $2 billion.

"It's a small investment in the grand scheme of things of the money we spend for other public causes," Samant said.

Vical's president says that if proper funding were in place and if the federal regulatory process were streamlined, his company could have a swine flu vaccine available to the public within three months.

President Obama is asking Congress for $1.5 billion to help federal agencies fight the swine flu. The White House says this extra money would be used to help develop a vaccine, as well as stockpile anti-viral medication.

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