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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 00:21 GMT 01:21 UK
High hopes for fridge-free jabs
Girl being vaccinated on the Chad-Sudan border
Vaccines have to be refrigerated to protect them against temperature extremes
A new technology developed in the UK could revolutionise vaccine delivery by eliminating the need for refrigeration.

The technique, developed by Cambridge Biostability, is based on anhydrobiosis - a process which allows cells to be preserved in a dried-out state.

If the technique proves successful, it would mean vaccines would become more available across the developing world.

It is estimated up to 10 million more children could be protected using this new vaccine, within existing budgets.

Vaccines need to be refrigerated, a process known as the "cold chain", to protect them against extreme temperatures.

But this can prove tricky in some areas of the world and it is estimated about half of all vaccinations are wasted each year because of contamination or exposure to extremes of temperature.

Two million children die from vaccine-preventable illnesses each year.

Revolutionise

Cambridge Biostability chief scientist Dr Bruce Roser said the technology, called stable liquid, had the potential to revolutionise international vaccine programmes.

Dr Roser said: "If it works out as we hope it will increase access to vaccines across the developing world and stop children dying.

"In a way we have been blessed with ignorance. Most people assumed what nature was doing was going to be so complicated.

The good health we take for granted in the UK is due in great part to our vaccination programme
International Development Secretary Hilary Benn

"Our assumption was that is was a simple process."

John Lloyd, associate director of the Children's Vaccine Programme, said: "The Holy Grail has always been to develop technology that does away with the cold chain and means vaccines can be delivered as easily as aspirin.

"It means that we can get out to more children in countries where immunisation coverage is at only 50%. We can reach 100%."

Cambridge Biostability has commissioned Panacea Biotec in Delhi, India, to manufacture a pentavalent vaccine - a five-in-one vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hib and hepatitis B - within three years.

The biotech firm has spent five years trying to adapt the process of anhydrobiosis, which allows some organisms to survive dried up by replacing water with a sugar solution which keeps cells in a state of suspended animation until rehydration occurs.

Disease

In vaccines, it is used to produce a dry vaccine which reactivates once it is injected into the body.

Cambridge Biostability is also working on producing vaccines for hepatitis B and meningitis.

In theory, the technology could be used on any vaccines, including live vaccines for diseases such as measles.

It also has the potential to be adapted to allow the slow release of a vaccine, potentially eliminating the need for boosters.

However, it will be five years at least before a vaccine which can be stored without refrigeration will be available.

The Department for International Development agreed to give 950,000 funding after the technology was assessed by the World Health Organization.

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn said the technology could mean children in the most remote areas of the world have access to life-saving vaccinations.

"The good health we take for granted in the UK is due in great part to our vaccination programme.

"We want to make this a reality for children and their parents in the developing world."




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What this could mean for the developing world



SEE ALSO:
Hopes of malaria vaccine by 2010
15 Oct 04  |  Health
Africa 'faces new polio threat'
24 Aug 04  |  Health


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