The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged drug companies to speed up vaccine research because of fears that the avian influenza (bird flu) virus H5N1 could mutate and cause a pandemic in humans.
But only two pharmaceutical companies — Chiron Corp in the United Kingdom and Aventis-Pasteur in France — have been working on a potential vaccine.
The WHO says that other drug companies have not gone ahead with research and development of a vaccine because of potential patent issues and concern over investing in vaccines that might never be needed.
At a closed-door meeting in Geneva this week, the WHO urged drug companies to start working on vaccines to prevent a serious shortage if the pandemic become reality. The bird flu virus has killed 12 people in Thailand and 20 in Vietnam, and authorities say they anticipate more outbreaks of infection.