'U' prof's flu-fighting nasal spray gains FDA approval

BY ERIN SAYLOR
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 6, 2003

A flu vaccine may soon be available to the public in the form of a nasal spray thanks to the work of University epidemiology Prof. Hunein Maassab. Reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December, FluMist was deemed safe and effective for healthy people ages five to 49.

If approved by the FDA when it comes under review again next month, FluMist could be available to the public in time for the September 2003 flu season, Rochford said. It would be the first flu vaccine available to the public in the form of a nasal mist.

"The positive recommendations of the FDA committee reviewing FluMist are most welcome," Maassab said in a written statement. "I believe that more people will use the nasal spray vaccine than a vaccine that must be injected. This should reduce the overall risk of flu."

The FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee requested more data on the efficiency of FluMist for people 50 to 64 years old. Concerns included possible reactions to other vaccines given to children and the risk of FluMist causing pneumonia or asthma.

University assistant epidemiology Prof. Rosemary Rochford said that the FDA was just exercising caution and added that the recommendation looks good.

"I'm so very excited for Maassab," Rochford said. "He wanted to come up with a champion for the vaccine, and he has succeeded."

While current vaccines use inactive viruses to trigger immunity, FluMist is made with a weakened but live influenza virus. It adapts the virus to the cool temperatures of the nasal passages, but not in the warmer temperatures in the lungs where the disease develops. FluMist is a trivalent vaccine, designed to fight three strains of influenza.

The vaccine is administered to a patient through a painless spray into each nostril, twice a year for children and once for adults. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 70 million people currently get the flu vaccine, yet influenza remains a serious public health issue facing the country, killing 20,000 Americans each year and hospitalizing 100,000.

Maassab began his research on influenza at the University in 1956 when he was an assistant researcher in the department of epidemiology. Inspired by his mentor Thomas Francis Jr., who had overseen the U.S. Army's flu vaccine program during World War II, Maassab spent the next 40 years of his life developing cold-adapted strains of influenza.

One year ago, biotechnology company MedImmune Inc. announced plans to merge with Aviron, the company that holds the license to FluMist.