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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.

Link to Reuters news story

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