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Pandemic Defense: GSK, Solvay Land Huge Federal Contracts for Influenza Vaccines

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and Solvay Pharmaceuticals are two of five pharmaceutical firms that were awarded more than $1 billion in contracts Thursday as part of the federal government's plans to counter a possible pandemic of avian influenza.

"Today, we're taking a step closer to preparedness by investing more than $1 billion to develop vaccines more quickly and to produce them here in the United States," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced in Washington, D.C.

The money is to be used to accelerate development and production of influenza vaccines. The contracts were awarded a day after President Bush outlined a more than 200page federal plan designed to counteract the deadly avian flu should it strike the United States.

GSK has a major operation in RTP. Solvay Pharmaceuticals is based in Atlanta.

The contracts call for the firms to focus on cell-based manufacturing of vaccines rather than traditional methods based on chicken eggs. GSK said it would scale up its cell-based manufacturing capacity at a facility in Marietta, PA.

"We have the opportunity to be the first generation that prepares for pandemic. Our current capacity of egg-based influenza vaccine production is not sufficient to meet increased demands during an emergency. Accelerating the development of this vaccine technology and creating domestic capacity are critical to our preparedness efforts," Leavitt said.

Cell-based vaccine manufacturing "offers a number of benefits. Vaccine manufacturers are able to bypass the steps needed to adapt the virus strains to grow in eggs. In addition, cell culture-based influenza vaccines will help meet surge capacity needs in the event of a shortage or pandemic, since cells may be frozen in advance and large volumes grown quickly," the HHS said in a statement. "Licensure and manufacture in the U.S. of influenza vaccines produced in cell culture also will provide security against risks associated with egg-based production, such as the potential for egg supplies to be unavailable as a result of various poultry-based diseases. Finally, the new cell-based influenza vaccines will provide an option for people who are allergic to eggs and therefore unable to receive the currently licensed vaccines."

GSK was awarded a contract worth $274.75 million. Solvay received a $298.59 contract.

Also winning contracts were MedImmune ($169.46 million), Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics ($220.51 million) and DynPort Vaccine ($40.97 million).

"The contract awarded to GSK, a global leader in influenza vaccines, underlines the company's commitment to support the efforts of the U.S. government in protecting public health through increased and diversified vaccine production capacities for seasonal as well as pandemic flu vaccines," said David Stout, president of pharmaceuticals at GSK.

For more information about the government's efforts to combat a pandemic, see:


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