Wednesday, June 18, 2008
By Ryann Petit-Frere
SAN DIEGO -- One of the hottest topics at this year's BIO 08 is the threat posed world wide every year by influenza, including a new "bird flu" that could create a pandemic if no tools are found to fight it.
And one Wisconsin researcher is in the center of that discussion.
Yoshihiro Kawaoka, one of the world's leading influenza researchers, has sparked the creation of the Institute for Influenza Viral Research, a $9-million research facility in the University Research Park. And the head of one of the companies he helped create, FluGen, told conferees at BIO that the company is already producing new influenza vaccines.
Paul Radspinner, president and CEO of FluGen, said his company is also working to combat avian influenza, also known as bird flu. He said the company is drawing on the Kawaoka, as well as help from the state and UW-Madison, in its quest to battle the flu.
"We are able to bring together all the pieces Wisconsin has to offer," he said. "Wisconsin tax credits, the use of the Waisman BioManufacturing Facility and support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation have all helped us."
The threat of a major avian flu outbreak "is very real," warned world-renowned molecular biologist Adolfo Garcia-Sastre who was part of a panel of influenza researchers.
Scientists don't know when a mass "bird flu" outbreak will occur in humans, but they know it will, he said. What is needed are vaccines and biosafety practices to keep this threat subdued.
The "bird flu" is a virus that resides in the intestine of wild birds. While it has no effect on the wild species, it can kill chickens, turkeys and ducks. Though seldom, strains of the virus may jump from poultry to humans causing symptoms that can range from mild to severe, even to death.
Garcia-Sastre's vaccine for poultry interferes with the transmission of the disease from wild birds in the first place. His work is funded though a $23-million-per-year federal program as one of six Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance.
More information about Adolfo Garcia-Sastre can be found at http://www.mssm.edu/labs/garcia-sastre/.
More information about FluGen, Inc. and Yoshihiro Kawaoka can be found at http://flugen.com/.