HHS Awards Contracts for Flu Vaccine Development
HHS on Thursday awarded more than $1 billion in contracts to continue development of cell-based methods for manufacturing flu vaccines, the Wall Street Journal reports (Corbett Dooren, Wall Street Journal, 5/5). Currently, flu vaccines are made by injecting the virus into fertilized eggs and then growing them in a process that takes several months. With cell-based technology, the virus is grown in large tanks that contain cells floating in a "nutrient broth," the Washington Post reports (Brown, Washington Post, 5/5).
The cell-based technology is considered more consistent than the egg-based method, and it can produce higher yields in about nine to 12 weeks (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 5/5). The cell-based technique also decreases the risk of contamination and leads to a vaccine that can be used by people with an egg allergy (Manning, USA Today, 5/5).
Using funding allocated from the $3.3 billion Congress approved for pandemic flu planning for the current fiscal year, HHS awarded five-year contracts to Solvay Pharmaceuticals, for $298.59 million; GlaxoSmithKline for $274.75 million; Novartis for $220.51; and MedImmune for $169.46 million.
DynPort Vaccine was awarded a $40.97 contract through July 31, 2007 to develop the technology for the cell-based technique in collaboration with Baxter International. The DynPort-Baxter contract could be valued at $242.5 million over five years if the government continues to fund it after July 2007 (Wall Street Journal, 5/5).
The companies will manufacture vaccines that protect against both seasonal flu and a pandemic flu (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 5/5).
Under the contract agreements, the companies are required to build or expand a vaccine plant in the U.S. Each company will apply for FDA approval for the vaccine it develops using the cell-based technique.
If all goes as expected, the companies within five years should have the capacity to manufacture about 300 million doses of vaccine within six months -- enough to immunize every U.S. resident (Washington Post, 5/5).
In related news, the Senate on Thursday approved a $108.9 billion FY 2006 emergency supplemental spending bill (HR 4939) that includes funding for pandemic flu planning, CongressDaily reports. The bill includes $2.6 billion to prepare for a potential pandemic flu outbreak and create a compensation fund for victims of experimental vaccines and other products designed to combat possible pandemics.
According to CongressDaily, "[s]wift agreement" on the bill with the House "will prove difficult." President Bush has threatened to veto the measure if it costs more than $94.5 billion, "which includes $2.3 billion for pandemic flu countermeasures not part of his initial request" (Cohn, CongressDaily, 5/4).
The Boston Globe reports that the bill includes "a raft of special-interest provisions for farmers, fishermen and a major defense contractor, among many others" (Klein, Boston Globe, 5/5).
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "The House will not take up an emergency supplemental spending bill ... that spends one dollar more than what the president asked for. Period" (Hurt/Fagan, Washington Times, 5/5).
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said there will be "tremendous pressure" in conference to reduce the bill's price tag (CongressDaily, 5/4).
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said the bill would be "dead on arrival" (Washington Times, 5/5).
APM's "Marketplace" on Thursday examined investments in vaccine production. The segment includes comments from Gigi Grunvall at the University of Pittsburgh; Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan; and Michael Osterholm, director of the
A transcript and audio of the segment in RealPlayer are available online. This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.