Emergent Wins New Contract for Anthrax Vaccine

By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Rockville biotech will remain the government's sole anthrax vaccine supplier until new doses, based on more modern technologies, can be procured.

Emergent BioSolutions announced yesterday that it had signed a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to supply the Strategic National Stockpile with an additional 14.5 million doses of BioThrax for $364 million, with the potential to receive as much as $404 million.

The possible increase is tied to the company's ability to extend BioThrax's three-year shelf life to four years. Emergent has submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration demonstrating BioThrax's stability in hopes of lengthening that expiration date, said company spokeswoman Kim Root.

Emergent owns the nation's only approved anthrax vaccine, originally licensed in 1970. The company is currently completing a $448 million contract to supply the government stockpile with 18.75 million doses of BioThrax. Under this new agreement, scheduled to begin next year, Emergent will continue to deliver BioThrax through the fall of 2011.

An improved vaccine, one that might replace BioThrax, won't be available until 2012 at the earliest, said Gretchen Michael, a Heath and Human Services Department spokeswoman.

Emergent's shares jumped almost 6 percent, to close at $13.83.

Stephen G. Brozak, president of WBB Securities, a San Diego investment and research firm, said the latest contract award reinforced Emergent's role in the biodefense sector.

"This is a story showing the value of Emergent's continued contracting strength in keeping up with purchasing," Brozak said.

Since 1988, the government has purchased 32 million doses of BioThrax, and more than 2 million military personnel have been inoculated.

In February, Health and Human Services put out a call for a genetically engineered, or recombinant, anthrax vaccine. BioThrax is administered in six injections over 18 months, and some vaccinated soldiers have reported side effects. In theory, a recombinant vaccine -- a purer vaccine -- would require fewer doses and have fewer side effects.

Brozak said Emergent and PharmAthene of Annapolis are among the top contenders for the 25 million dose contract. The award, or awards divided among multiple biotechs, could come in the next few months.

The race became tighter last week when both biotechs announced that they had received separate federal development contracts to invent additional forms of the anthrax vaccine.

Separately, PharmAthene announced a $13.1 million investment from Panacea Biotec of India.

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