BARDA upgrades Emergent pact with $258M option for anthrax vaccine stores

Drugmakers around the world are scrambling to develop a COVID-19 shot, and Emergent BioSolutions has already signed on to help produce doses for some major players. Now, the Gaithersburg, Maryland-based biopharma has scored a contract update to deploy future vaccine doses for a wholly different kind of health crisis. 

On Monday, Emergent BioSolutions said it received a contract modification from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response—part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—to exercise an option valued at $258 million for extra doses of the company's up-and-coming anthrax vaccine, NuThrax.

Emergent's anthrax vaccine absorbed with adjuvant first scored a procurement contract from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) back in late 2016. The Monday update marks the first time BARDA has leveraged one of its options to lock down additional doses of the vaccine. 

NuThrax combines the company's older anthrax shot, BioThrax, with the immunostimulatory oligodeoxynucleotide compound CPG 7909, and it requires two doses rather than the BioThrax's three to confer immunity. The new vaccine also yields a rapid immune response, making it desirable for use during an anthrax event, whereas BioThrax was developed as a preventative. 

Under Emergent's 2016 contract with BARDA—valued at upwards of $1.5 billion—the company was tapped to develop the shot over the next five years and deliver an initial three million doses to the U.S.' Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), with options in place for the agency to call on an extra 50 million doses.

Now, emergent will use the funding to deliver additional doses over the next 12 months. Emergent has said the new option will help the company phase out SNS stores of BioThrax (anthrax vaccine absorbed), developed by parent company Emergent BioDefense Corporation, in favor of its vaccine with adjuvant. The company will maintain capability for BioThrax for pre-exposure vaccination of military personnel and other high-risk staffers, CEO Robert Kramer said. 

In the development field, the company has completed enrollment for a phase 3 trial of NuThrax, also called AV7909, ahead of schedule, Abbey Jenkins, SVP and vaccines business unit head at Emergent, said. That study is expected to wrap late this year. 

Back in 2011, the company signed a deal worth up to $1.3 billion to supply five years' worth of its current FDA-approved anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, to the national stockpile. But as the deal came to a close in 2016, Emergent was quick to eke out a new contract with the government, negotiating a follow-on arrangement for its up-and-comer shot, NuThrax. 

Plus, Emergent has continued to forge supply deals for BioThrax over the past few years, nabbing a five-year stockpile contract with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) worth up to $911 million in late 2016 and another BARDA contract on top of its supply deal for NuThrax. 

Meanwhile, Emergent has also pivoted its vaccine manufacturing brawn to tackle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In June, British drugmaker AstraZeneca tapped Emergent for an $87 million deal to pump out doses of the University of Oxford's adenovirus-based COVID-19 shot in the U.S. That deal was quickly followed up by a whopping $480 million work order from Johnson & Johnson to help churn out doses of its DNA-based vaccine candidate starting in 2021.