Vaccines have basically worked the same way for decades. A pathogen antigen is isolated, used as the basis of a vaccine and administered to the patient. The Pentagon thinks there might be a better way of doing things, and it has tasked Pfizer ($PFE) with investigating its hunch.
News of the project emerged after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)--the research arm of the Pentagon--awarded Pfizer a three-year, $7.7 million contract. Details of the research are scarce, but what DARPA has revealed implies it wants to cut response times to pandemic or bioterrorism threats by eliminating several of the steps currently needed to confer immunity.
"Pfizer shall perform a research and development program designed to develop a technology platform to identify and subsequently induce the production of protective antibodies to an emerging pathogen directly in an infected or exposed individual," the Department of Defense wrote in its roundup of recent contracts.
Identifying the antigen and inducing antibody production in vivo would eliminate some of the time-consuming steps currently essential to developing, manufacturing and administering a vaccine. While the project is clearly at a very early stage--and the budget small by biopharma standards--the potential implications of the work are big and far-reaching. Success would overturn traditional vaccine processes.
Pursuit of the technology is a reflection of military concerns about bioterrorism. In October, experts told Congress defense against bioweapons is a "significant national vulnerability," Marine Corps Times reports.