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China Takes Lead in SARS Vaccine

Scientists worldwide are racing to develop severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) vaccines and get them into the clinical trial stages, China's Ministry of Science and Technology said Monday.

At least 10 different types of SARS vaccines are in various stages of development, according to the ministry.

Four of them, developed by Canada and the United States, will go into clinical trials by the end of this year. Vaccines developed by France and Austria will likely go the same stage next year.

Preliminary clinical trials on a SARS vaccine developed by Chinese scientists are already under way. Giving China the lead in the race to develop and test a vaccine, the drug entered trials in January, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, research by scientists from different countries has created a new hotbed of discussion and studies of new infectious diseases.

Last week, Chinese scientists and officials from the ministry attended an international symposium on SARS vaccines organized by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The symposium was attended by virology experts, doctors and drug company representatives from the European Union, the United States, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, Canada, Thailand, Austria, France and China.

Monday, the WHO released its evaluation of China's progress in developing a SARS vaccine, said the information department of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

China and the WHO will continue to work toward a global standard for a SARS vaccine. This will play an important role in standardizing experiments around the world.

In February, the State Drug Administration (SDA) authorized Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech Co. Ltd. to select volunteers for China's first clinical tests of the vaccine.

The first phase of the testing will last three months and be conducted in Beijing, south China's Guangdong Province or neighboring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The group of volunteers will comprise 15 men and 15 women between the ages of 18 and 40. They will go through medical examinations and clinical observations.

The vaccine was found to be safe and effective in experiments on animals, including the rhesus monkey, whose immune system closely resembles that of humans.

The first phase of the test is to determine if it is safe and effective on humans. There are still risks, Chinese experts said.

The vaccine might cause minor side effects such as low fever and pain. But these symptoms disappear naturally without medical treatment.

(China Daily March 9, 2004)

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