Consortium wins US biodefence contract

pharmafile | April 3, 2009 | News story | Manufacturing and Production biologics, vaccines 

A consortium of US and UK companies has been awarded an $11 million grant from the US Government to speed up manufacturing of monoclonal antibodies and vaccines to answer an emerging biological threat.

The contract comes from the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) which was set up in 1998 to combat weapons of mass destruction, including biological agents.

The objective of the project is to develop a fast, flexible and portable biomanufacturing system that can be used to develop emergency therapeutics and vaccines.

Current production methods can take many months to optimise for large-scale production, so the US Government is keen to identify swifter methods that could be used to respond earlier and save lives.

The consortium consists of four partners. The primary contractor is US company Xcellerex, which provides disposable manufacturing equipment and process development services.

Multinational company Dowpharma is supplying a novel bacterial cell line called Pfenex, which is used to manufacture biologics. UK-based deltaDOT is providing analytical technologies used to track the quality of biologics and vaccines made using the technology, while another UK firm, Biopharm Services, is providing technical advice on implementing the system.

This is the second of three phases in the DTRA contract. The first $13 million phase, started in 2007, focused on demonstrating that the cell line and manufacturing technology could produce high titres of biological material at a small-scale production level.

This second phase has the objective of increasing the productivity of the system and its scale. The top-line aims are to increase the yield of vaccine and monoclonal antibody 10-fold, as well as achieving an improvement in product quality.

The US Government has been pouring dollars into biodefense projects since the Bush Administration's Project Bioshield came into force in 2004, a little over two years after anthrax was introduced into the US postal system, killing five people.

Since then, it is estimated that more than $40 billion in funding has been allocated to projects aimed at countering biological threats across seven federal departments.

Much of that money has gone towards the development and stockpiling of novel vaccines and therapeutic, and this latest award is one of only a few looking at improving manufacturing of these agents.

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