File photo of a nurse holding a bottle of the Pandemrix H1N1 flu vaccine and a bottle of the vaccine's adjuvant at a health centre in Burgos

GSK vaccine ingredient scrutinized for narcolepsy clues

by Kate Kelland, Reuters  |  published on February 10, 2013

Mounting evidence of a link between GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix flu shot and a spike in narcolepsy cases among children in Europe is putting one of the vaccine’s key ingredients, AS03, under intense scrutiny.

The ingredient is one of a class of pharmaceuticals known as adjuvants, or boosters, designed to turbo charge the potency of a vaccine and the body’s immune response to it.

AS03 was widely used in Europe during the 2009-2010 H1N1 flu pandemic and is also contained in a GSK adjuvanted flu vaccine which in November last year became the first of its kind to be recommended for approval by the normally adjuvant-wary United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There’s little doubt AS03 does its job well.

Pandemrix, the flu vaccine under suspicion for the narcolepsy link, needs only a fraction of the antigen – the part that actually does the immunization – of other flu shots to give sufficient protection.

This means the manufacturer – in this case GSK – can produce multiple times the number of vaccine doses without needing to spend valuable time making large amounts of the antigen.

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