Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Britain will be unable to use a flu treatment that could be critical to fighting a pandemic because of strict rules designed to prevent transmission of the human form of mad cow disease, The Times has learnt. Scientists believe that antibodies taken from the blood of recovered flu patients could be used to treat others who develop the disease, providing a third line of defence against a pandemic after vaccines and antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu. The technique, however, could not be used in the UK because of a ban on British blood products in medical therapies, introduced seven years ago to tackle a theoretical risk of spreading new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).

Sir Peter Lachmann, Emeritus Professor of Immunology at the University of Cambridge and a past president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said that the minuscule chance of contracting vCJD from antibody treatments was far outweighed by their potential benefit in a pandemic. “Compared to flu, it is a trivial risk, and it can be reduced,” he said. “Preparedness for a pandemic means doing something about these regulations, so we don’t have any obstacles when the time comes.”

Treatments and vaccines based on antibodies, known as immunoglobulins, are already used widely against diseases such as hepatitis A, chicken pox and measles. Blood is removed from a patient who has recovered and the liquid plasma part is mixed with alcohol and separated into its components by fractionation. One of the resulting fractions is rich in immunoglobulins that the immune system has made to fight the pathogen in question, and these can then be given to other patients exposed to the disease, either to prevent it from developing or to assist recovery. The approach has not yet been used against flu in humans, largely because existing vaccines and antivirals are more effective and less risky for ordinary seasonal strains of the virus. Research in mice, however, suggests that immunoglobulins would be an effective way of alleviating symptoms. Immunoglobulins would also be a vital alternative to Tamiflu if a pandemic strain developed resistance to the antiviral drug, as experts predict.

“This is an option,” Robin Thorpe, head of immunology at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, said. “It really needs to be thought through as early as possible. If it is deemed to be a way forward, we’ll need time to do it properly.”

Stephen Inglis, director of the NIBSC, said: “It is clearly part of our armoury and there isn’t any reason to think it shouldn’t work. The problem though is that you would have to wait until you had patients who had recovered. There may also be practical problems with obtaining immunoglobulin and ensuring it is safe to give to other patients.”

Under regulations introduced in 1998, immunoglobulins and other plasma products cannot be made from British blood because of the risk of vCJD. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that it was aware of the potential role of immunoglobulins, but the approach was not yet considered a frontline pandemic defence.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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