Biotech Stocks Rise as Two New Human Bird Flu Infections Emerge

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Shares of vaccine makers including Moderna and BioNTech rose sharply on Wednesday after Australia reported its first case of human bird flu H5N1 and the United States detected its third, raising fears of wider transmission.

Health authorities in the Australian state of Victoria reported on Wednesday a case of bird flu in a child infected during a trip to India who has since made a full recovery. Michigan state health officials also confirmed that they had detected a case of avian flu in a dairy worker exposed to an infected herd of cattle.

Avian flu has been spreading widely in U.S. livestock herds, having been detected in nine states during the current outbreak. The two new human cases bring to eight the total of human bird flu infections detected so far this year worldwide, but raise concerns among health officials on alert about the spread of another virus to human populations, just a year after the official end of the pandemic. -19 pandemic.

Other signs of bird flu transmission turned out to be a boon for vaccine-focused biotechs involved in the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, whose stock prices have fallen from pandemic highs as investors have soured on them due to decreased demand. Investors are betting that companies will once again be at the forefront of fighting the next pandemic, if it materializes.

Clare Looker, Victoria’s chief health officer, said the case involved an H5N1 strain unrelated to outbreaks in the United States. A separate strain of H7 bird flu was also detected at an egg farm near Melbourne, early laboratory tests indicated. Until now, Australia was the only continent whose animals had not been affected by the bird flu outbreak.

Looker said contact tracing efforts had not uncovered any further cases and stressed that the risk of further transmission was low as there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the Michigan case does not change the agency’s assessment that the risk to human health was low, but “underscores the importance” that people with regular exposure to infected animals take necessary precautions. The CDC has increased surveillance testing among farmworkers.

Shares of Germany-based CureVac, which last month announced an initial H5N1 vaccine trial in collaboration with GSK, rose 18.8 percent to $3.91.

Moderna shares rose 13.7 percent to $163.33, after gaining about 50 percent last month. Moderna said on Wednesday it was in talks with the US government about advancing its pandemic flu candidate through clinical trials after completing a mid-stage trial using its mRNA vaccine technology to target the family. H5 influenza virus, of which the H5N1 strain is a part.

Germany-based BioNTech closed up 11 percent at $102.30. Novavax, which has been conducting preclinical testing of vaccines targeting three different strains of H5N1, rose 5.3 percent to $15.70.

In a prepared statement, Novavax told the Financial Times that its vaccine platform “could be an attractive asset from a pandemic preparedness perspective because currently available avian influenza vaccines produce a limited immune response.”

The pandemic provided a huge windfall for vaccine makers like Moderna and BioNTech, whose first approved product was its Covid vaccine, but investors have since soured on the group as the pandemic has receded and demand for shots has declined. diminished.

U.S. health officials have vaccine stockpiles of several hundred thousand doses that officials say were effective against bird flu. US officials have also previously said that existing partnerships with three vaccine makers (GSK, CSL Seqirus and Sanofi) would allow production to be scaled up to millions of doses if a pandemic were to occur.

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