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Novartis Gets EU OK for New Flu Vaccine

Swiss drugmaker Novartis said Wednesday it has received European Union approval for flu vaccine Optaflu.

Iceland and Norway also have approved Optaflu for use in vaccination against seasonal influenza, Novartis said, adding that its use of proprietary cell culture technology could help in the event of flu pandemic crisis.

"Optaflu marks the first major innovation in influenza vaccine manufacturing in over 50 years," said Dr. Joerg Reinhardt, chief executive of Novartis vaccines and diagnostics.

Reinhardt said the vaccine would provide a "more flexible and reliable production process," helping to meet demand for seasonal flu treatments and vaccines in case of a pandemic.

Health officials around the world have been preparing in case the bird flu virus that has killed at least 190 people since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in 2003 mutates into a form that spreads more easily between humans. The World Health Organization has warned that a pandemic could kill hundreds of thousands around the globe.

Novartis said Optaflu is expected to be available in Germany and Austria for next winter's flu season. It will be available in the other 25 EU countries by the 2008-2009 season.

The company said it will probably seek U.S. regulatory approval next year.

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