Novartis Produces First Swine Flu Vaccine

BASEL, Switzerland (AP) -- Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis AG said Friday it has produced a first batch of experimental swine flu vaccine, a day after the World Health Organization declared the disease a pandemic.

The vaccine hasn't yet been tested and cannot be used in humans yet. It was made in cells, rather than grown in eggs as is usually the case with vaccines, the company said.

Vaccines grown in cells currently account for less than 5 percent of the world's vaccine production, and experts say this is unlikely to change soon.

But the news pushed up Novartis shares by 4 percent to 44.82 Swiss francs ($41.56) on the Zurich exchange.

The WHO says drugmakers will likely have vaccines against swine flu approved and ready for sale after September.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva that the global body is making available to all qualified manufacturers a strain of the virus A(H1N1) that can be used to make vaccines.

Novartis said it would use the first 2.6-gallon (10-liter) batch of vaccine for laboratory testing. It may also be tested in humans, the company said.

The vaccine was produced at a Novartis plant in Marburg, Germany.

"As well as speed, another advantage of cell-based production is the ability to rapidly increase production, so the facility has the potential to produce millions of doses of vaccine each week," Novartis said in a statement, adding that a second plant is being built in Holly Springs, North Carolina.

But David Fedson, a vaccines expert and former medical professor at the University of Virginia, cautioned that most of the world's flu vaccine in the next few years would be grown in eggs, not cells.

"Cell-based technology is not going to help us increase our pandemic vaccine supply for a while," he said.

Novartis said more than 30 governments have requested vaccine supplies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, which placed a $289 million order in May.