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Sweet Home Alabama

Something is going on in Birmingham -- the new Influenza Research Capital of the US?

I was perusing the Goole Alerts - Bird Flu folder this morning.  If I don't see evidence of avian or human cases, or breaking news such as the untimely death of Graeme Laver, I kind of pass on them until I have some free time.

So I was more than a little interested in the stories that were datelined Birmingham, Alabama.  A vaccine company out of Marietta, Georgia, named Solvay, announced that due to the economy about to do its Death Roll and spiral into the great Abyss of Flaming Mismanagement, along with a Federal shortage of grant monies to build its plant, plus the oversupply of flu vaccine, it was abandoning its plans to build a manufaacturing facility in -- Birmingham, Alabama.


Then I remembered the hubub surrounding antiviral manufacturer BioCryst, of -- Birmingham.  Its human tests of its new injectible influenza N-class antiviral Peramavir did not go as well as planned, and the company voluntarily stopped Phase three testing and wrote off some $4.9 million in lost revenue from the discontinuation of the HHS-sponsored trials.  But the research into Peramavir continues.

Also showing up on the radar recently is the vaccine manufacturer Vaxin.  Now when I first heard of Vaxin, forgive me if I conjured up a magazine with scantily-clad babes and stories about how to get rock-hard abs and drive Tony Stark's Audi to the foot of the Matterhorn and climb it before lunch.  

Vaxin is actually a company that is trying to use adenovirus as a transport mechanism to deliver influenza vaccine without injection.  Delivered nasally or onto the skin, the adenovirus-transported vaccine would confer quick immunity against influenza, bird flu, anthrax, and Alzheimers (!).  No vaccine against lending money to people who clearly can't pay it back, nor a vaccine against Wall Street and Washington, DC greed, excesses and stupidity.

But I digress. Vaxin is working on the Holy Grail of vaccines:  Cell-based, not egg-based vaccines, delivered quickly and without the need for needles, thimerosol, etc.  Initial tests by Vaxim claim to prevent a host of A and B flus, including some evidence of cross-immunity against H5N1.  The nearly million-dollar NIH grant will fund the research.

Just for grins, I Googled "university Birmingham influenza" and I came up with some additional stuff.  UAB (Go Blazers!) also has a nifty influenza research department, and one Gillian M. Air published a paper on "Antigenic properties of influenza neuraminidases" with none other than the recently late Graeme Laver and the Pope of Influenza, Robert G. Webster.   Published books and papers on the structure of influenza go back well into the early 1990s, and the university has partnered with Vaxin to study the effects of its work.

So a Southern city with its history in the production of steel, civil rights heroes and football players has turned into a major influenza research hub.  I think that is pretty cool.  I also think that is a great example of what a few civic leaders with vision and persistence can accomplish.  Plus, I think it is cool that a college with a dragon as its mascot is doing flu research. 

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