Novavax joins H7N9 vaccine race, reports positive preclinical data

Novavax ($NVAX) is joining the race to produce a vaccine against the newest strain of avian influenza, H7N9, and it has published positive preclinical data for its viruslike particle (VLP) vaccine candidate.

The latest outbreak of avian influenza in China earlier this year has spurred drug development interest in a vaccine to combat the deadly H7N9 strain, which health officials around the world have said has the potential to become a pandemic. Rockville, MD-based Novavax is competing against Blue Bell, PA-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals ($INO) to develop a vaccine against the strain.

In a lethal wild-type challenge mouse model, Novavax compared two doses of its H7N9 VLP vaccine candidate to three control groups--the company's H7N3 VLP vaccine candidate, its H5N1 VLP vaccine candidate and a placebo. VLPs are self-assembling protein structures that resemble the external structure of viruses and trigger broad, strong antibody and cellular immune responses but do not contain the live genetic material that causes viruses to replicate and infect. All animals receiving the H7N9 or H7N3 VLP vaccine candidates survived compared to none that were given the H5N1 vaccine or placebo. The research was published online in the journal Vaccine.

Leading Taiwanese vaccine manufacturer Adimmune has already completed Phase III trials and expects to make an H7N9 jab available soon. Meanwhile, Novavax reported that it has begun enrollment for a Phase I trial.

Scientists have yet to determine the source of H7N9, but they believe it may have emerged from contact with farm animals, especially chickens. As of July 4, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed 133 cases of H7N9 infection, including 43 deaths.

While the number of cases of H7N9 infection fell sharply after April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a July 10 bulletin that studies indicate that avian influenza viruses have a seasonal pattern, similar to human seasonal influenza viruses, meaning H7N9 infections could pick up again when the weather gets cooler in China.

- here's the press release
- and the study

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