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HHS Awards $35M Contract To Company In Hopes Of Faster Flu Vaccine Production

The HHS on Tuesday announced its decision to award a $35 million contract to a U.S. company using “insect cell technology” to develop flu vaccines, AFP/Google.com reports (AFP/Google.com, 6/23). CQ HealthBeat reports: “If the Food and Drug Administration approves the new technology [to be safe and effective], Connecticut-based Protein Sciences Corp. will establish the capability to produce a finished vaccine within 12 weeks of a pandemic’s onset and manufacture at least 50 million doses in the following six months.”

Unlike the conventional method of using chicken eggs to grow flu vaccines – a process that can take four to six months – “[t]he new technology, known as recombinant influenza vaccine, places a gene from a flu virus into an insect virus that can multiply quickly in insect cells, which are then purified for use in a human vaccine,” according to CQ HealthBeat. “The cells can be frozen, which would facilitate rapid production of large quantities of vaccine for use against both seasonal and pandemic flu” (Stephenson, CQ HealthBeat, 6/23).

“The technology has advanced in recent years to a point that we believe it could help meet a surge in demand for U.S.-based vaccine for seasonal and pandemic flu,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a written statement. “We want to use the technology to help our nation respond to emerging infectious diseases” (HHS release, 6/23).

HHS’ announcement came one day after creditors filed a petition to force Protein Sciences into involuntary “bankruptcy and liquidation, saying they were owed $11.7 million,” the New York Times reports. The article continues, “The series of events raises questions about whether the government is entrusting part of the nation’s influenza defense to a financially shaky or untrustworthy company” (Pollack, New York Times, 6/23).

“If testing goes well, the contract could be expanded over five years for a total of nearly $150 million,” Reuters/Washington Post reports. The government has allocated $1 billion for the development of a vaccine to protect against the H1N1 (swine flu) virus (Steenhuysen, Reuters/Washington Post, 6/23), which continues to spread globally. A full list of country H1N1 cases and deaths is available here  (WHO Influenza A(H1N1) – update 53, 6/24).

“We turned out our first batch of doses – about 100,000 – against (A)H1N1 flu last week and we’re continuing to manufacture it,” Don Adams, chief executive officer of Protein Sciences Corporation, said (AFP/The Australian, 6/24).

GMANews.TV Examines Global H1N1 Vaccine Supply

GMANews.TV examines “the race” for countries to secure H1N1 vaccine. The article looks at how “[a]ffluent countries have made advanced orders for the sought-after vaccine” compared to the Philippines, where health officials say they are waiting to first “determine the priority group” for receiving the vaccine. “[T]he Philippines appears to be dilly-dallying, even after the death of a 49-year-old Filipina who became the first A(H1N1)-related fatality in Asia,” GMANews.TV writes. The article also examines fears that richer nations may acquire most of the limited H1N1 vaccine supply, leaving already vulnerable populations in developing countries without protection against the virus (Sabangan, GMANews.TV, 6/23).

New York Times Examines H1N1 Origin Theory

“Contrary to the popular assumption that the new swine flu pandemic arose on factory farms in Mexico, federal agriculture officials now believe that it most likely emerged in pigs in Asia, but then traveled to North America in a human,” the New York Times reports. The article explores this latest theory while acknowledging the scientists themselves “emphasized that there was no way to prove their theory and only sketchy data underpinning it,” the newspaper writes (McNeil, New York Times, 6/23).