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Designer Antibodies Fight Bird Flu

Study Shows New Bird Flu Treatment Works in Mice
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From Mice to People? continued...

But what if bird-flu mAbs could be used not to treat a pandemic, but to nip it in the bud? That is the plan, says Boon.

The idea would be to stockpile about 3 million doses of the bird-flu mAb. Then, as soon as the world learned of a bird flu outbreak, the treatment would be given to everyone in the surrounding area. Mathematical models suggest that such a plan might work.

How long would it take to make 3 million doses of such a cutting-edge drug?

"We would expect that the 3 million-dose level could be reached within approximately six months," Hanson tells WebMD.

Bird Flu MAbs Still Years Away

Of course, flu viruses are notorious for rapid change. By the time a bird flu pandemic breaks out, the virus may have lost its susceptibility to the antibody.

"We are hoping that one of these mAbs neutralizes a couple of years' worth of H5N1 viruses," Boon says. "Then we would need to update that every couple of years."

Of course, that's only if the treatment really works in people -- and if it's safe. Both of these questions are unanswered. There are still many more animal studies to perform before human safety studies can begin.

That doesn't mean it will have to be years until antibody treatments can be used. Treanor says the National Institutes of Health is already collecting antibodies from people who have survived bird flu. It's hoped that this serum can be used to save other people with life-threatening bird flu infections.

And there's more progress being made. Way back in 1998, when H5N1 bird flu first broke out in Hong Kong, Treanor's team began exploring a vaccine. They gave this vaccine to 127 volunteers.

That 1998 virus is very different from the bird flu virus now circulating in Asian poultry. But when Treanor's team gave a vaccine against the new virus to people who'd received the old vaccine, they had virus-neutralizing immune responses after just one shot. Normally, it takes three shots of the new vaccine -- several weeks apart -- to get such a good response.

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