Federal government gives $1 billion to manufacturers to speed up avian flu vaccine production

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded more than $1 billion to five manufacturers developing technology for the quicker mass production of an avian flu vaccine. The companies are GlaxoSmithKline, $273.8 million; MedImmune, $169.5 million; Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, $220.5 million; DynPort Vaccine, $41 million; and Solvay Pharmaceuticals, $298.6 million. The money comes from $3.8 billion that Congress approved last year with the goal of being able to distribute vaccine to every American within six months of a pandemic striking and amid concerns that foreign flu vaccine supplies might not be made available to citizens of the US. GlaxoSmithKline told MM&M that its portion of funding will be used to help speed up work it began last year after allotting $2 billion of its own money to help more quickly produce flu vaccines and antivirals. “The money is tremendous, in that it allows us to accelerate the work that we had planned,” Glaxo spokesperson Patty Seif said. “In particular, the money will be spent on cell culture technology. Rather than eggs, it uses cells to grow the virus to make the vaccine and allows you to make the vaccine much faster.” Although cell culture vaccine production is estimated to be three to five years away for any company, Seif said the donation remains a step in the right direction. “It’s important that pharmaceutical companies are looking at this new technology because it allows you to make vaccines on a large scale very quickly and would obviously be important in a pandemic situation. The fact that we are taking the steps now is great and is in the interest of public health.”