Avian FluAvian Flu: SARS II

Published 7 December 2005

Short-lived fear pandemics drive growth, but may not drive progress

Two year ago, when SARS was all the rage, every biotech company worth its salt was pushing forward on a wave of hype about the pandemic and how the United States could address it before it arrived from foreign shores. This year, it has been the avian flu that drives biotech sales presentations.

Some labs, such as San Diego-based Vical, rushed products to human testing two years ago only to find that by now interest has abandoned it, and investments by the National Institutes of Health leave little to show for the fuss. Vical’s CEO says that most of their SARS vaccine research was funded through NIH, so investors have not lost value on that diversion. He also plans to direct resources to commercialize a new vaccine formulation approach that would be quicker to develop than the current procedures, aimed squarely at avian flu. If we look to history to inform our view of the present, though, the signs seem to suggest that much of the flu-related research today will be “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

-read an AP commentary