NIAID funds Soligenix with $2.7M in ricin vaccine effort

If this week's collaborations are any indication, the U.S. government isn't taking bioterror threats lightly.

Soligenix CEO Christopher Schaber

Just days after a separate agency struck an anthrax vaccine partnership, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) on Wednesday signed the first contract option in its partnership with Princeton, NJ-based Soligenix to forward work on the company's ricin vaccine candidate RiVax.

By exercising the option, the agency will provide Soligenix with $2.7 million to aid its efforts to pair its thermostabilization technology with RiVax as a heat-stable ricin exposure countermeasure. The two organizations initiated the pact last year with a $5.8 million base period and Soligenix could net up to $24.7 million through the completion of the deal over several years. The money will guide preclinical, manufacturing and clinical development for RiVax while Soligenix eyes a potential FDA approval and a procurement contract for national stockpiling.

To date, there are no effective means to prevent ricin poisoning's effects: A lethal dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated, is about the size of a grain of salt. In recent years, the substance has been found in envelopes addressed to high-profile officials such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Soligenix--which calls itself a world leader in ricin toxin vaccine research--has paired with the government before, benefitting from approximately $25 million in grants up until now from both the FDA and NIAID to develop RiVax. In addition to ricin, the Soligenix's biodefense unit is working on an anthrax vaccine candidate and therapies for both GI acute radiation syndrome and melioidosis.

The news closely follows Monday's announcement that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) agreed to fund the development of Pfenex's ($PFNX) improved anthrax vaccine candidate in a similarly-structured contract worth up to $143.5 million if all options are exercised. Pfenex's vaccine, it says, can be easily manufactured and confers immunity quicker than the currently-approved anthrax vaccine.

But San Diego-based Pfenex will be challenging an established provider in Emergent BioSolutions ($EBS), which since 2011 has had a $1.25 billion stockpiling contract with the national government for its FDA-approved BioThrax. And just in May, Soligenix and Emergent announced that they'll work together to develop a manufacturing process for RiVax.

- here's the release