Thursday, September 18, 2008

Emory Begins Testing Vaccines Against Pandemic Influenza Threat

Emory University and its physician/scientists will play a leading national role in evaluating promising new vaccines against an "H5" avian flu (bird flu) virus thought to be a possible pandemic threat in the future. The Emory Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU) will conduct a clinical trial of a new bird flu vaccine along with collaborators at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The eight national VTEUs are funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to conduct clinical trials for all infectious diseases other than HIV/AIDS.

The making and testing of vaccines is an important step in preparing for a pandemic. Vaccines for the various strains of bird flu could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Scientists estimate a bird flu pandemic in the United States could result in 90 million Americans being affected by flu-related illnesses and two million domestic deaths.

Several worldwide influenza outbreaks ("pandemics") have occurred during the past century, including Spanish Flu of 1918, Asian Flu of 1957, and Hong Kong Flu of 1968. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 resulted in an estimated 60 million deaths worldwide.

"The upcoming bid flu vaccine trial is an important part of our U.S. national preparedness for a future influenza pandemic," says Mark Mulligan, MD, principal investigator of the Emory VTEU and executive director of the Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Center.

"By preparing now, by figuring out the best vaccine strategies, we hope to reduce the potentially severe impact of the next pandemic. Emory University is proud to be participating. It is an opportunity for our Atlanta area study volunteers to contribute to an important public health effort. We are overdue for an influenza pandemic, so it is really a matter of 'when' not 'if.' This clinical trial is helping to get us ready for that 'when.'"

"Avian influenza remains a pressing and urgent international issue. This study hopes to find a solution--a preventive solution that might protect everyone and prevent the millions of deaths we have seen with other pandemics," says Gregory A. Poland, MD, director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group. The VTEU network clinical trial will involve 500 healthy persons who have not been previously vaccinated against the H5 influenza strain, including 160 at the Emory clinical research site.

"The Atlanta community has been very supportive of our efforts at the Hope Clinic," according to VTEU supervising research nurse Jane Skvarich, "and we look forward to broadening our impact with the inclusion of a diverse group of participants committed to the prevention research aims of this important study."

In addition to Emory University and its affiliate sites, the study will be conducted at several nationwide sites including Saint Louis University and the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, Washington.

For more information about this and other studies ongoing at the Emory VTEU sites, please see or contact Eileen Osinski at 877-424-HOPE or via email

About VTEUs The VTEUs were established in 1962 as a vital research component of the NIAID. The units conduct clinical trials for all infectious diseases other than HIV/AIDS, including bacterial, viral and parasitic vaccines, therapeutics and other biologics and drugs for prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in people of all ages and risk categories. The VTEUs have conducted hundreds of clinical studies over the past four decades.

VTEU investigators have tested and advanced vaccines for many diseases, including influenza, pneumonia, whooping cough, Haemophilus influenzae infection, cytomegalovirus infection, malaria, smallpox, anthrax and tularemia. Childhood vaccines and combination vaccines are an important part of VTEU research.

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