Switzerland has placed an order for a stock of GlaxoSmithKline Plc's experimental bird flu vaccine for human, enough to protect its entire population.
According to the Europe's biggest drug company, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health had ordered 8 million doses of its H5N1 vaccine for protection against influenza pandemic which can be activated by bird flu.
After the review and approval of the regulatory file for the pre-pandemic vaccine by the Swiss regulatory agency, Swissmedic, the vaccine will be supplied and stored by near the beginning of next year.
According to Glaxo, it is in discussion with other countries in Europe on pandemic preparation plans and will file its vaccine for approval with the European Medicines Agency by the end of this year.
As Glaxo's vaccine needs a very small amount of the key ingredient, even limited supplies would be enough to vaccinate many.
The major challenge faced by the drug companies is to use the minimum amount of the active ingredient or the antigen to produce maximum number of vaccines.
Though Glaxo's vaccine is effective against the lethal H5N1 avian flu virus, its action against any mutated strain is not known.
The H5N1 strain has quickly spread beyond Asia and has claimed over 150 lives of those who were in close contact with the infected birds.
If the virus attains the ability to transmit from human to human, experts dread that it can give rise to a global epidemic of flu that could take millions of lives.
Other companies in the race to develop pandemic H5N1 vaccines are Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis AG and Baxter International Inc.