PHARMACY

Novartis, others utilizing gene-mapping for new vaccines

BY Drew Buono

BASEL, Switzerland Novartis has become one of a few drug manufacturers showing results in using gene-mapping, mapping the genes of bacteria, to create new pharmaceutical products as way to bolster its drying pipeline and aging product discoveries, according to the Wall Street Journal.

One drug developed by Novartis is a vaccine to treat meningitis B, a deadly form of the infection. So far, the drug has proven successful in trials, where 60 percent to 90 percent of the infants who were given the shots experienced a strong level of protection against three common strains of the infection. These infants were given two shots and are scheduled to receive another two shots. The company plans to move the vaccine into much larger trials and if successful, would try to have the vaccine hit the market by 2010.

Intercell is testing a number of vaccines that it developed from gene maps, including one for pneumococcus, which causes pneumonia. Intercell and Merck are jointly developing another genomically derived vaccine for staph infections. And GlaxoSmithKline also has used gene-mapping to develop vaccines against streptococcus and the bacterium that causes meningitis B; both are in early-stage testing.

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New Jersey adds flu vaccine to list of childhood innoculations

BY Adam Kraemer

PHILADELPHIA The state of New Jersey announced that, starting in September 2008, children entering day care or preschool will be required to have had flu vaccinations, despite some parents’ fears that the trace amounts of mercury in the vaccines could trigger autism.

The flu vaccine is an addition to the list of communicable diseases for which children in the state already are required to have before they can enter such social settings as day care or preschool, both situations in which contagious diseases are easily spread. “This is a public-health policy that is aimed at protecting children and the community at large,” Eddy Bresnitz, state epidemiologist and a deputy health commissioner, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Some parents, however, have expressed concern and even written letters to the Public Health Council in opposition to the change, mainly over safety concerns. While no scientific studies have found a link between thimerosal—a mercury-containing preservative once used in vaccines—and the triggering of autism in young children, some vaccines still contain trace amounts of the chemical and it’s enough to alarm parents.

“It is our feeling that parents have the right to make medical decisions for their families,” Sue Collins, a parent and leader of the New Jersey Alliance for Informed Choice in Vaccination, told the paper. “I don’t want trace amounts of mercury in my body or my children’s bodies under any circumstances. We know it is a dangerous toxin and yet we keep injecting it into our kids.”

“Thimerosol-free preparations are available, and the trace amounts in some preparations are truly tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny amounts,” said Craig Newschaffer, chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Drexel University School of Public Health.

The new rules follow recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New Jersey does allow exemptions based on medical and religious grounds, but not for “philosophical” reasons. “Flu is turning out to be a stealth killer,” said Robert Field, chair of the department of health policy and public health at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. “Seasonal flu, which most people can shrug off as an inconvenience for a week or two, is truly a threat to people at high risk, particularly the very old, the very young, and those with compromised immune systems.”

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Tibotec awards Medivir $24 million for drug development milestone

BY Drew Buono

STOCKHOLM, Sweden Medivir has received $24.54 million from Tibotec related to the development of the drug candidate TMC435350, which recently advanced into Phase II clinical trials at the end of November, according to published reports.

The money has come in two different payments. The first payment was for a clinical milestone reached by Medivir under the terms of the research and license agreement between the two companies; that amounted in $7.21 million for Medivir. The second payment is due because Medivir opted not to obtain the marketing rights to an approved product in the Nordic countries, which resulted in $17.32 million.

“Our goal is to achieve revenues from sales of licensed pharmaceuticals in the Nordic market in the coming 12 months,” explains Medivir’s chief executive officer Lars Adlersson. “A robust financial position will facilitate the creation of a Nordic sales and marketing organization and strengthen us in coming partnership negotiations.”

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