Canada to step up flu vaccine research

Posted on June 5, 2009 in Education Debates, Health Debates – Canada – Canada to step up flu vaccine research
June 05, 2009.   Reuters

TORONTO — Canadian health officials created a network of researchers to speed up influenza vaccine research Friday, saying they will test new vaccines against the new H1N1 flu.

The network of 80 scientists from 30 research and public health institutions will get C$10.8 million ($9.7 million) over three years, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said.

“We have put this research network in place ahead of schedule to help us respond to the current flu outbreak,” Aglukkaq said in a statement.

“Through this network, scientists from across the country will play a critical role in helping to protect the health of Canadians and their families.”

The new strain of H1N1 swine flu has infected 1,795 Canadians and killed three. While it is mild now, global health officials fear it could turn into a more virulent form.

Globally, the new strain has been confirmed in 21,940 people and killed 125, although U.S. health officials say they suspect more than 200,000 people there are infected.

The World Health Organization and other health authorities have not decided whether a vaccine against the new H1N1 strain will be needed but many companies are starting work on one.

Canada’s network, linking the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada, will be led by Dr. Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Researchers will investigate ways to start human trials quickly, test a new vaccine against H1N1, and work on ways to create and distribute vaccines quickly in case of a flu pandemic.

In addition, Dr. Guy Boivin at Universite Laval will track the evolution of the H1N1 flu virus, test antiviral drugs against it and look for new drugs.

Dr. Babak Pourbohloul at the University of British Columbia and his team will create mathematical models to rapidly analyze the transmission and spread of the virus and evaluate potential ways to curb its spread.

“This is exactly what we did in response to the SARS crisis a few years ago,” Dr. Alain Beaudet, president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, said in a statement.

© Thomson Reuters 2009

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