Emergent BioSolutions made its name churning out Anthrax vaccines in 2002, after Anthrax-filled envelopes started arriving in the mailboxes of prominent lawmakers. In 2012, it won an eight-year, $220 million government contract putting it to work fighting Ebola. It’s latest opportunity has come with the Zika crisis.
The Gaithersburg, Md.-based company said Monday it has been awarded a contract that could ultimately be worth $21.9 million by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop and manufacture an early-stage Zika vaccine. The authority is a federal effort to coordinate responses to public health emergencies.
Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, has flared in 46 countries since 2015 and has been associated with severe birth defects in babies of pregnant women who were infected.
“This is the third time now the government has come to us under [the BARDA contract] and asked us to manufacture for them to meet a public health crisis,” said Barbara Solow, Emergent’s head of research and development.
Emergent will provide drug development and manufacturing for an early-stage Zika vaccine — one of several in the pre-clinical stages — in preparation for a Food and Drug Administration review process that could open it up to broader consumption. The vaccine could be given a designation called the emergency use authorization that could hasten the approval process. It could reach stage-one clinical trials by early 2017.
Solow said the vaccine has shown proof of concept in animal testing, putting it further along than competing pre-clinical efforts. She said the BARDA had acquired the vaccine candidate from a third party, which she declined to name. BARDA’s media relations team did not respond to a request for comment.
There are no commercially available Zika vaccines on the market. The virus has been known to scientists since the middle of the 20th century, but Solow says it wasn’t until recently that the medical and biodefense community started pouring resources into vaccine development.
“This one kind of hit everybody unexpectedly,” she said of the ongoing crisis. “Nobody was really concerned about it until it started spreading so quickly and then was shown to cause microcephaly.”
For Emergent, it adds to a portfolio of advanced biodefense work.
The base value of the 21 / 2-year contract is $17.9 million, with options that could add $4 million depending on the outcome of clinical trials.
The company is planning to hire additional staff to cover the contract.
“We’re just really glad that the government keeps on relying on us,” Solow said.