BARDA calls on Novartis, GSK, Emergent to pitch in with Ebola drug

The U.S. government invested $440 million in three vaccine plants in the U.S. in 2012 with the proviso that if something like a pandemic occurred, it could call on them to produce drugs that it required. With Ebola spreading, those calls have now been made.

The Ebola crisis has prompted the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to ask the three plant owners--Novartis ($NVS), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Emergent Biosolutions ($EBS) and their partners--to tell it what it would take for them to produce ZMapp, an experimental drug currently being produced through a novel approach using tobacco plants. BARDA wants detailed timetables and budgets for making ZMapp, Reuters reports. They are supposed to respond by Nov. 10.

ZMapp, developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, is a cocktail of three antibodies. Besides the U.S. health workers, it was used to treat a Spanish priest, who died, and three Liberian health workers. But the company has exhausted the small supply it had on hand while it developed the unapproved drug.

The three vaccinemakers said they were evaluating the requests. Dr. Brett Giroir, CEO of the Texas A&M Health Science Center, which GSK is partnered with, told Reuters it "is swiftly responding." Last month, GSK and Texas A&M officially dedicated the $91 million facility, which is slated to be complete next year. But Giroir has said that another of its partners, Caliber Biotherapeutics, could produce large quantities of ZMapp from tobacco plants.

Amgen ($AMGN) has also been asked to see what it could do using the more traditional mammalian cell process to produce the drug. According to Reuters, Amgen said it would have a dozen people or so work on the project through the end of the year.

- read the Reuters story