Emergent BioSolutions nabs government funds to test new-and-improved anthrax vaccine

Anthrax under a microscope--Courtesy of CDC

A Maryland-based biodefense contractor received a double dose of good news this week with the inking of a government contract to develop a new and improved anthrax vaccine and a separate FDA approval for an injected treatment of anthrax infection.

In a $31 million development agreement with Emergent BioSolutions ($EBS) announced Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it will fund Phase III development for NuThrax, Emergent's new anthrax vaccine that's already been funded through Phase I and II by the NIH and the Department of Defense, Reuters reports.

The company's current FDA-approved anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, has been stockpiled to protect against attacks, but its side effects and dosing schedule have been called into question by defense officials and Congress. The new vaccine will require two doses to confer immunity rather than BioThrax's three, and the next-gen vaccine doesn't need refrigeration, the Washington Business Journal reports.

BARDA Director Robin Robinson

"Anthrax remains a national health security threat, and we're striving to develop an anthrax vaccine that affords immunity sooner and with fewer doses," Robin Robinson, director of HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), said in a statement seen by Reuters.

HHS has been seeking improved anthrax remedies since anthrax-laced letters mailed to media outlets and government offices in 2001 killed 5 people and infected 17. BioThrax is driving Emergent's revenue growth, the Journal reports, with the company estimating up to $540 million in 2015--about $100 million more than in 2014.

Also this week, Emergent announced that its Anthrasil anthrax infection treatment--which is made from plasma of people already vaccinated against infection--won FDA approval. The approval sparked a $7 million milestone payment from BARDA, and the authority will begin stockpiling the product.

Emergent, a small but important component to the U.S. biodefense strategy, has a 5-year contract for the older anthrax vaccine worth up to $1.3 billion. The company was selected in 2012 with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Novartis ($NVS) to share in a $400 million contract from the DOD and HHS to increase U.S. vaccine manufacturing capacity available to the government in case of pandemic or bioterror.

The Anthrasil approval gives the company cash to fund non-biodefense assets, FierceBiotech reports, including treatments for hemophilia B, leukemia and prostate cancer. Emergent has also inked pacts for Ebola and pandemic flu.

- here's the Reuters story
- get more from Washington Business Journal
- and the Anthrasil news from FierceBiotech