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Race to Find a Flu Vaccine Is On; Flu Remedies Profit

by Lynn Shapiro, Writer | April 29, 2009

Relenza is expected to benefit more than Tamiflu, since Relenza is inhaled and is not as easy to store as are pills.

On the government front, FDA has given the CDC authority to use a clinical test not yet approved for swine flu, only available in a few government labs that will be testing samples. The FDA has also authorized off-label use of Roche's Tamiflu in infants under the age of one year who may contract the flu. The medicine is currently approved for kids aged 7 and over.

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Snapping Up Startups

The new importance of vaccines has led pharmaceutical companies to snap up startups, according to an article in Business Week on Monday.

Last year, Sanofi-Aventis bought Britain's Acambis for $482 million; the company was developing vaccines for smallpox, West Nile, herpes and other viruses.

In 2006, Pfizer bought Britain PowderMed, which developed a technique to shoot DNA vaccine molecules bound to gold particles into the skin, Business Week said.

With all these players, the vaccine industry is in a better position to respond to a pandemic now than it was five years ago, when the United States had only two flu vaccine suppliers and was hit by a severe shortage, industry watchers say.

And vaccines, once considered to be commodities, are now sought-after medicines, receiving government subsidies and commanding higher prices.

Still, federal officials say it would take until January, or late November at the earliest, to make enough vaccine to protect all Americans from a possible epidemic of swine flu.

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