HEALTH

Study finds multivitamins reduce risk of low birth weight

BY Michael Johnsen

OTTAWA Prenatal multivitamin supplements are associated with a significantly reduced risk of babies with a low birth weight, compared with prenatal iron-folic acid supplementation, a study published last week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found.

The World Health Organization currently recommends iron-folic acid supplements for all pregnant women. Previous studies have not shown an advantage from prenatal multimicronutrient supplementation over iron-folic acid supplementation, study authors noted.

“Low birth weight and related complications are considered the most common cause of global infant mortality under the age of 5 years,” wrote Prakash Shah of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “With the possibility of reducing low birth weight rates by 17%, micronutrients supplementation to pregnant women … offers the highest possible return for the investment,” he added. The authors suggested that approximately 1.5 million babies born with a low birth weight could be avoided each year globally, out of the estimated 20.6 million low-weight births.

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Novartis completes first batch of influenza A(H1N1) vaccine

BY Michael Johnsen

BASEL, Switzerland Novartis has successfully completed the production of the first batch of influenza A(H1N1) vaccine, the vaccine against the novel H1N1 influenza virus responsible for the current pandemic, weeks ahead of expectations, the vaccine manufacturer announced Friday.

The quick turnaround was made possible through cell-based manufacturing technology, which allows vaccine production to be initiated once a pandemic virus strain is identified without the need to adapt the virus strain to grow in eggs, as with traditional vaccine technologies. This advance has cut weeks off the time required to begin vaccine production, Novartis stated.

“The speed advantages of our cell-based production approach and our unwavering commitment to address this public health emergency have resulted in our ability to provide the fastest possible response to this outbreak,” stated Andrin Oswald, CEO of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics.

This first batch of 10 liters of wild type influenza A(H1N1) vaccine monobulk will be used for pre-clinical evaluation and testing and is also being considered for use in clinical trials. It demonstrates the value of the cell-based production approach, that is also being used by Novartis with reassortant influenza A(H1N1) seed.

Based on this success with the wild type, Novartis expects to be able to achieve rapid scale up of influenza A(H1N1) vaccine manufacture with reassortant seed, which was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 27. The company plans to start clinical trials with that vaccine in July and expects licensure in the fall 2009.

More than 30 governments have made requests to Novartis to supply them with influenza A(H1N1) vaccine ingredients, including a $289 million order made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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CDC director: Get traditional flu vaccine and H1N1 vaccine next season

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA Should consumers later this year be more concerned about getting a vaccine shot for the novel H1N1 strain, should one be developed in time, in place of maybe the seasonal influenza vaccine?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the answer is both — consumers should at least get the seasonal vaccine that’s being produced currently, as well as the novel H1N1 strain that was officially raised to pandemic status earlier this week, should one be available.

“We are continuing to expect to be administering the seasonal influenza vaccine and making sure people get it,” Anne Schuchat, CDC’s director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a press briefing Thursday. “Seasonal influenza can be a bad thing. About 36,000 people die from that every year, and it’s disproportionately a problem in the elderly and the vaccines that are available can really reduce illness as well as some of the complications,” she said.

The importance around inoculating the population against seasonal flu is in the danger of strain mutation, she said. “Seasonal H1N1 virus that we’ve had this past year is resistant to Tamiflu. And we really don’t want this novel H1N1 virus to become resistant to Tamiflu as well so there can be some benefit from trying to reduce these other infections even in the circumstance of a novel strain,” she advised. “I think it’s really premature for us to make any definitive conclusions about the seasonal influenza vaccine, but based on what I know today, I’m not expecting us to change our recommendations about that.”

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