|Help needed for bird flu vaccine, says official |
Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Indonesia needs foreign help to develop a bird flu vaccine for humans because local pharmaceutical companies lack the necessary technology, an official said Monday.
"Indonesia, in this case state-owned drugmaker Bio Farma, does not have the technology and expertise to create the vaccine. So far we can only offer foreign pharmaceutical companies our strain of the virus to work on," Health Ministry spokesperson Lily S. Sulistyowati told The Jakarta Post.
Lily said drugmaker Baxter approached Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari about a year ago and offered to collaborate on a human vaccine using the Indonesian strain of the bird flu virus.
"Other companies came to us with their own vaccines using strains from other countries, such as Vietnam. We insisted that Indonesia needs a vaccine developed from our own strain.
"A vaccine derived from Indonesia's strain of the bird flu virus will be more effective when used here," she said.
Switzerland-based Baxter Healthcare SA, a subsidiary of U.S. pharmaceutical company Baxter International, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Health Ministry to develop a human vaccine based on the Indonesian strain of the H5N1 virus.
"The vaccine is in the clinical testing phase and projected to be ready for launch in December. However, we could release the product under emergency conditions," she said.
The ministry stopped sending bird flu samples to WHO laboratories after Australian pharmaceutical company CSL announced it was developing, without Jakarta's consent, a vaccine developed from the Indonesian strain of bird flu.
Contacted separately, Indonesia Health Consumer Empowerment Foundation chairman Marius Widjajarta said the Health Ministry was right to stop sending virus samples to overseas labs.
"Indonesia has the right to stop sending out its strain because WHO was trying to develop a vaccine with commercial benefits and Indonesia would not have benefited for its efforts," Marius said.
He said the ministry should launch an investigation into WHO's actions regarding the "leakage" of Indonesian bird flu samples.
"As the hardest hit country (by bird flu), Indonesia should be careful with outside assistance because it could create a dependence on other countries," he added.
Experts still fear the virus could mutate into a more lethal version that would be easily transmitted from human to human, sparking a global pandemic that could kill millions.