Page last updated at 09:03 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 10:03 UK

Glaxo to market bird flu vaccine

It is feared the H5N1 strain of bird flu could cause a pandemic

UK drugs firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has won European Union approval for its vaccine designed to protect people against the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The ruling makes Prepandrix the first vaccine to receive a licence for use in the 27-member region.

Other governments, including the US and Switzerland, have already started stockpiling the vaccine.

It is feared that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that could be spread between humans, killing millions.

Sales opportunity

Since 2003, the virus has been circulating in a number of distinct forms in Asia, Europe and Africa.

GSK has said that its Prepandrix vaccine has worked effectively against these different variants.

"This vaccine marks a significant step in the world's ability to cope with an influenza pandemic," said GSK chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier.

Other drug firms, including the French drug company Sanofi Aventis and Swiss Novartis, have also been working on bird flu vaccines, which analysts say could be worth $1bn in revenue for the firms.

Up until now, H5N1 has remained primarily a virus affecting birds, but scientists fear it is the most likely next global pandemic in humans.

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