A world leading virologist has said “we must expect we must expect an animal-originated pandemic to hit the world within the next five years, with potentially cataclysmic effects on the human race”.
The warning comes from Professor John Oxford a world-renowned influenza virologist who is Scientific Director of Retroscreen Virology Ltd., and Professor of Virology at St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital, Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry.
His company Retroscreen Virology has successfully cultivated the SARS virus in its containment laboratory and has investigated virucides and lozenges for major pharmaceutical companies.
His business, Retroscreen Virology specialises in infecting human subjects with specific viruses with the goal to test the effectiveness of antivirals.
Retroscreen Virology, which he established in 1989 with the help of EU funding. Retroscreen Virology has grown into Europe’s leading contract virology research company. Its work is dedicated to creating the next generation of antivirals and vaccines in the field of biomedical research. It is the only company in the UK able to conduct human influenza challenge studies in a specialised quarantine unit with A/Panama/2007/99 and A/New Caledonia/20/99 viruses and has characterised influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) and B viruses.
To say John Oxford has something to gain from an outbreak of a flu-like virus is an understatement although that is not to imply anything sinister but it is worth bearing in mind when listening to his comments. What is unfortunate is that he does not appear to be to optimistic of his efforts to stop such a pandemic.
John Oxford appears to have been in agreement with David Kelly in saying that the effusiveness of chemical weapons, specifically in the case of Iraq was extremely limited
‘The chances of these things being used are vanishingly small because of the difficulties involved in getting people infected. You’d have to get it into a powdered, dispersable form even if you got your hands on smallpox. The others are non-runners. They are not very infectious. And viruses are very fragile — they wouldn’t stand being chucked around or sprayed.”
The Department of Health warned of 65,000 deaths, set up a special advice line and website, suspended normal rules so anti-flu drugs could be given out without prescription and told health and local authorities to prepare for a major pandemic.
Planners were told to get morgues ready for the sheer scale of deaths and there were warnings that the Army could be called in to prevent riots as people fought to obtain drugs.
But with fewer than 5,000 in England catching the disease last week and just 251 deaths overall, Dr Wodarg has branded the H1N1 outbreak as ‘one of the greatest medical scandals of the century’.
He said: ‘We have had a mild flu – and a false pandemic.’
He added the seeds of the scare were sown five years ago, when it was feared the much more lethal bird flu virus would mutate into a human form.
The ‘atmosphere of panic’ led to governments stockpiling the anti-flu drug Tamiflu and putting in place ‘sleeping contracts’ for millions of doses of vaccine
Dr Wodarg said: ‘The governments have sealed contracts with vaccine producers where they secure orders in advance and take upon themselves almost all the responsibility.
‘In this way the producers of vaccines are sure of enormous gains without having any financial risks.
‘So they just wait, until WHO says “pandemic” and activate the contracts.’
He also claims that to further push their interests, leading drug companies placed ‘their people’ in the ‘cogs’ of the WHO and other influential organisations.
Welcome to Retroscreen
Retroscreen Virology has developed a business system with two principal units. The first is a Clinical Services business built around Human Viral Challenge Model and the second is a Translational Research (Pre-Clinical) business, built around in-house expertise on testing antivirals and virucidals in-vitro.
The team at Retroscreen Virology are committed to creating the next generation of drugs and vaccines for a number of respiratory diseases.
Viral Challenge Model (VCM)
We are the only company in the world dedicated to the conduct of Human Viral Challenge Model (also known as the VCM), a model which we have pioneered this century. These studies take place in the company’s unique, purpose-built, quarantine unit located in London. The Human VCM enables pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, as well as world leading academic groups, to accelerate and reduce the cost of bringing anti-viral drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines to market.
Professor John Oxford
The world renowned influenza virologist Professor John Oxford is Scientific Director of Retroscreen Virology Ltd., and Professor of Virology at St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital, Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry. British-born, his research interest is the pathogenicity of influenza, in particular the 1918 Spanish Influenza strain. This research has been featured on science television programmes in the UK, USA, Germany and The Netherlands.
Professor Oxford was fortunate in his early career to work under Sir Charles Stuart-Harris, who in 1933 had isolated the influenza virus and who was a great inspiration to the young John Oxford.
Professor Oxford then moved to Canberra to work under Professor Graeme Laver, whose work with the crystallization of the influenza protein formed the basis for the development of the Tamiflu vaccine.
Co-author of two standard texts: “Influenza, the Viruses and the Disease” with Sir Charles Stuart-Harris and G.C. Schild, and most recently “Human Virology: A Text for Students of Medicine, Dentistry and Microbiology,” now in its third edition, Professor Oxford is a prolific communicator. He also makes time to give numerous interviews on BBC Radio and Television, and is a frequent contributor to the BBC News website. Professor Oxford has published 250 scientific papers.
He is especially proud of Retroscreen Virology, which he established in 1989 with the help of EU funding. Retroscreen Virology has grown into Europe’s leading contract virology research company. Its work is dedicated to creating the next generation of antivirals and vaccines in the field of biomedical research. It is the only company in the UK able to conduct human influenza challenge studies in a specialised quarantine unit with A/Panama/2007/99 and A/New Caledonia/20/99 viruses and has characterised influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) and B viruses. Recently the company cultivated the SARS virus in its containment laboratory and has investigated virucides and lozenges for major pharmaceutical companies.
The Professor regards one of his most interesting and useful activities to be his participation in the EC-funded European surveillance network for vigilance against viral resistance (VIRGIL). This project aims to integrate and coordinate the activities of physicians and scientists from many institutions in 12 European countries in order to combat current and emerging antiviral drug resistance developments. The joint effort is initially directed towards three major infectious diseases: influenza and viral hepatitis B and C.
Coordinated by Inserm (the French Institute for Health and Medical Research), the network’s activities started in May 2004 supported by a 9 million/4-year grant from the European Commission, with the initial task to integrate the fragmented European capacities and best expertise in the field into a single coherent Network of Excellence. It initially gathered 55 organizations from 12 countries, including seven companies and more than 60 laboratories.
VIRGIL: European vigilance network for the management of drug-resistant viruses.
VIRGIL is a Network of Excellence that aims to integrate and coordinate the research activities of doctors and scientists from institutions across Europe who are investigating viral resistance; in particular to influenza, and hepatitis B and C.
The network gives structure to Europe’s previously fragmented research and unites experts in the field, offering coherence and coordination between more than 60 organisations from 14 European countries. In other words, VIRGIL acts like a virtual institute’ on all aspects of antiviral drug resistance in Europe. It means that Europe can comprehensively address the problem of resistance at an early stage. Staying one step ahead of the virus means a greater chance of remaining in control.
Professor of Virology
Scientific Director of Retroscreen Virology Ltd
Centre for Infectious Diseases
Bart’s and the London
Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry
327 Mile End Road
London E1 4NS