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    Production of Russian human bird flu vaccine set for spring

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    MOSCOW, October 11 (RIA Novosti) - A human vaccine against the H5N1 bird flu virus could start to be produced in Russia in the spring of 2007, a research center chief said Wednesday.

    The deadly strain has claimed dozens of human lives since it first appeared in Asia in 2003, and it has since spread worldwide. Scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form transmissible between humans, sparking a global pandemic.

    "Completing the full cycle of trials will take several months," Anton Katlinsky, who heads the Microgen center, which specializes in vaccine research, told a news conference. "Next spring, Russia will have a technologically tested pilot vaccine, whose commercial production could be launched any time."

    Katlinsky said the first phase of clinical trials was successful. In June 2006, 240 volunteers, aged 18 to 50, were injected with two types of the vaccine. The OrniFlu vaccine proved the most effective, he said.

    Further trials will also involve volunteers, who will receive financial compensation for the risk.

    Katlinsky said researchers have developed proper vaccine production techniques and, commercial production could be started promptly in the event of a pandemic.

    When the vaccine is completed, the first batch could be produced in seven and eight weeks' time, and demand for the vaccine could be met in full in 45 days' time, the researcher said.

    Earlier reports said the vaccine is likely to be given mainly to people in high-risk groups, including poultry farm workers, hunters and veterinary workers.

    This year, an epidemic of the deadly virus broke out in five Siberian and 11 southern regions, resulting in the deaths and culling of about 1.5 million birds. No human fatalities have been reported in Russia.

    But Yelena Doroshenko, a department head at a flu research institute, said that six people died after pluming swans in April in Azerbaijan, which borders on Russia.

    Doroshenko also said the available veterinary vaccine has proved effective.

    "Vaccinated birds do not fall ill even after being infected with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain in the lab. This reduces human infection risks," Doroshenko said.

    A World Health Organization official also attending the news conference said research is vital. Marie-Paule Kieny, director of Initiative for Vaccine Research, said one to two million people died in the latest pandemic last century and warned that an outbreak of the disease among humans could result in massive casualties on the same scale.

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