Tue, Nov 25, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Researchers seek human volunteers to test SARS drug

AP , BEIJING

Chinese researchers expect to begin human trials next month on an experimental SARS vaccine that injects the dead virus into medical subjects so their immune systems can recognize it and hopefully attack it, a government drug official said yesterday.

"We cannot tell yet whether it will be successful in humans, but we can say it is effective in animals, especially monkeys," said Yin Hongzhang, head of the biological product section of the State Food and Drug Administration.

The efforts come as cold weather returns to northern China and many people in Beijing, which along with Hong Kong was the hardest-hit area in the world, gird for its possible return. Researchers around the world are seeking SARS vaccines, and the World Health Organization has said a vaccine is probably more than two years away.

The Chinese agency is now seeking human volunteers to test the vaccine, Yin said, adding that it isn't clear how long initial trials will take. He said the vaccine uses purified samples of the dead SARS virus. "Therefore, this vaccine will protect the body," he said.

China has already produced about 1,400 shots of the vaccine, and another 20,000 will be packaged and inspected by quality control experts, the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily reported.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, which scientists say is caused by a coronavirus, killed 774 people and caused more than 8,000 to fall ill before subsiding in July. In China, 349 people died.

The disease first surfaced in southern China in November of last year, and for months scientists didn't know what it was. They still aren't sure how it originated.

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