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The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) has granted British pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) marketing approval for its bird flu vaccine, Prepandrix.
Prepandrix targets the H5N1 strain of the avian flu virus, which has been responsible for numerous human deaths across Asia.
It is the first vaccine to be approved for use in the EU. Switzerland has already ordered 8 million doses – sufficient to cover its entire population – and the US has ordered 27.5 million.
Prepandrix is based on the Vietnam strain and been found to be effective in preventing death in 96% of cases.
GSK chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier said: “For the first time the authorities are approving a prepandemic vaccine. We have demonstrated that even if the H5N1 virus drifts to a different strain it is still effective.”
If a future pandemic influenza virus has mutated too far away from the H5N1 strain, GSK’s vaccine will not be effective and a new vaccine will have to be made.
Both Switzerland’s Novartis and France’s Sanofi Aventis are also working on a bird flu vaccine.