HHS takes both sides of egg bet for vax-making

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has re-upped in the egg business at the same time it's working to get out. Under the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the agency has signed a three-year, $57-million deal with Sanofi Pasteur to maintain chicken flocks. The objective is a year-round supply of eggs for pandemic flu vaccine manufacturing.

The deal follows a just-concluded one between the partners that began in 2004. The government wants to ensure that it can provide rapid-response production of a strain-matched vaccine for declared flu pandemics. The contract encompasses quantities of eggs and additional supplies to support the vaccine-maker's full production capacity.

Separately, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in late September that a cell-based seasonal flu vaccine from Novartis could be ready for the U.S. market in time for the 2011-2012 flu season. Cell-based production, seen as a new-tech solution to the long timelines required of long-established vaccine-making methods, eliminates the need for eggs as a growth medium.

A $487-million contract with Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics has yielded a facility in Holly Springs, NC, to make the cell-based prophylactic and adjuvants. The plant would represent a first in the U.S., according to CIDRAP.

Novartis tempers Sebelius's optimism, saying the drug giant plans to file for approvals in the first half of 2011. Based on vagaries of the drug approval process, however, it won't commit to a market availability date.

- see the egg contract announcement
- here's the CIDRAP article