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Man’s Best Friend May Be the Flu’s Worst Enemy

Australia’s CSL wants to use dog cells to fight potential flu outbreaks.

For decades, drug companies have grown vaccines using chicken eggs. That’s why an outbreak of hen-killing avian flu would be such a nightmare scenario: “The whole world would consume all the chicken eggs within a couple of months,” says Guan Yi, director of the Center of Influenza Research at the University of Hong Kong. “We need to have another option.”

The answer may lie in the Raleigh suburb of Holly Springs, N.C., where CSL, an Australian company, is experimenting with growing vaccines in kidney cells taken from dogs. (No harm comes to the dogs; the cell line has been available since 1958, when researchers took tissue from a female cocker spaniel.) While egg-based vaccines have a limited shelf life, CSL—which makes more flu vaccines than anyone besides Sanofi—says it can keep the dog cells on ice in perpetuity, to respond easily to an outbreak. “That’s critical in case of a pandemic, which spreads rapidly,” says Gordon Naylor, president of the company’s vaccine subsidiary, Seqirus.