June 24, 2009 / 11:05 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-US panel backs new Japanese encephalitis vaccine

(Adds comments, details, background)

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, June 24 (Reuters) - A U.S. immunization panel has voted to include a new vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, a mosquito-borne disease, made by Intercell AG ICEL.VI, in its list of recommended vaccines for U.S. travelers, the company said on Wednesday.

Intercell said the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, which advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approved the vaccine for U.S. travelers to Asia, military personnel and others at high risk.

The vaccine, called Ixairo, protects against Japanese encephalitis, which affects 30,000 to 50,000 people each year across Asia, killing up to 15,000.

Intercell developed the vaccine and Novartis AG NOVN.VX has commercialization rights.

The vaccine won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in March after studies showed the vaccine offered a high level of protection after only two doses.

The immunization panel also changed many of its recommendations about Japanese encephalitis to reflect increased travel to Asia by U.S. citizens, especially to rural areas, which are hardest hit by the infection.

The virus affects membranes around the brain and usually causes mild symptoms, but can lead to high fever, brain damage, coma and death. It is the leading cause of childhood encephalitis and viral encephalitis in Asia.

“The consequences of contracting this disease can be devastating,” Gerd Zettlmeissl, chief executive of Intercell, said in a statement.

In briefing documents, the panel noted that no treatment was currently available for Japanese encephalitis.

In the past, the only licensed vaccine available in the United States was Sanofi Pasteur’s (SASY.PA) JE-VAX, which is no longer manufactured in the United States. (Editing by Peter Cooney)

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