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Last Updated

04 Oct 2002

Source: Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2002.


NIH Awards $22.5 Million To Develop Anthrax Vaccine


The National Institutes of Health awarded $22.5 million in contracts to speed development of a new streamlined anthrax vaccine, expected to start human-safety studies by May.

The contracts went to VaxGen Inc. of Brisbane, Calif., which is a maker of genetically engineered vaccines, and to a closely held British maker of chemicals and protein pharmaceuticals, Avecia, of Manchester, England.

The new vaccines aim to produce immunity in three doses, rather than in six doses over 18 months, as required by the current anthrax vaccine made by Bioport Inc., of Lansing, Mich.

The vaccines will use genetically engineered copies of a key anthrax protein -- known as recombinant protective antigen, or rPA102 -- to stimulate the body to create immunity against the lethal bacteria. In last fall's anthrax letter attacks, 22 people became ill. Of those people, 11 developed skin infections and another 11 the more lethal inhalational anthrax, of whom five died.

Genetically engineered anthrax vaccines have protected monkeys from aerosol exposure to the deadly bacteria. VaxGen said its anthrax vaccine will license techniques pioneered by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md. Avecia will also use the rPA102 protein, made by a different technology.

The grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a unit of NIH, aim to speed development. The contracts require the delivery of pilot doses, and a manufacturing plan for producing more than 20 million doses, by 2003.

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will award larger competitive contracts to companies for the manufacture and maintenance of a 25 million-dose stockpile of anthrax vaccine.

In a speech in San Diego last week, Anthony S. Fauci, director of NIAID, said that the new paradigm of federal biodefense grants stresses the urgency of product delivery over science-for-its-own-sake. "Come back with drugs and vaccines," Dr. Fauci said.

As of 4 p.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market trading Thursday, shares of VaxGen rose 13%, or $1.17, to $10.17.