U.S. government tasks Protein Sciences with developing avian influenza vaccines

By request of the HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Protein Sciences will start working on two H7N9 vaccine candidates based on new virus strains identified in the fifth epidemic of the disease.

The Meriden, Connecticut-based biotech will set off on the quest using its recombinant vaccine platform called Flublok. Instead of growing an influenza virus, the tech only uses a small piece of the virus needed to trigger an immune response, resulting in a faster development process.

BARDA sent the development request to Protein Sciences under a pandemic preparedness contract awarded to the company last September. The contract runs through 2021 with the potential to reach $610 million in total development grants.

Traditional egg-based flu vaccines are usually available 16 to 20 weeks after authorities declare a pandemic, but Protein Sciences' recombinant vaccine could be available in about 12 to 16 weeks, according to the company.

RELATED: CDC works on new bird flu vaccine amid Chinese outbreak

A fifth wave of avian influenza is currently raging in China, with the country reporting 460 confirmed infections with 78 deaths to the World Health Organization as of the end of February.

Earlier this month, the CDC reported that scientists discovered two new genetic lineages of the virus—one low pathogenic and one highly pathogenic—that might not be susceptible to current vaccines under development. Shortly after, the WHO moved to recommend that two new H7N9 vaccine candidates be developed based on those strains.

RELATED: Protein Sciences could make $610M through government pandemic flu vaccine deal

Besides several Chinese companies currently working on vaccines based on previously discovered avian influenza virus strains, the CDC is also working on a candidate based on the newly identified low-pathogenic strain.

RELATED: Protein Sciences CEO eyes GSK, Sanofi goliaths in fight to 'take over' quadrivalent flu vax market

Last October, Protein Sciences notched U.S. approval for its Flublok Quadrivalent shot, which targets four seasonal flu virus strains. CEO Manon Cox, in an interview with FiercePharma at that time, said that she believes their version could eventually “take over the market” currently dominated by Big Pharmas such as GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi.