New bioterror vaccines are getting in the pipeline

The federal government has awarded $232 million to fund research and development of new vaccines against three potential agents of bioterrorism: smallpox, plague, and tularemia. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will administer the contracts.

The funding responds to a key objective of the NIAID biodefense research agenda, which emphasizes the development of new and improved medical products against "Category A" agents — those considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to pose the greatest threat to national security.

The smallpox awards continue advanced development work that began in 2003 on two modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA) vaccine candidates. These contracts will support larger scale manufacturing of the vaccines as well as further safety and effectiveness studies in animals and humans.

The tularemia and plague awards will fund early-stage product development of the respective vaccines, which will include dosage formulation, pilot batch production, and initial clinical assessment. All four contracts are for purchases of vaccine lots intended for research use.

Any future purchases of additional vaccines for stockpiling in the event of an emergency will depend on the results of the research currently under way.

NIAID awarded two contracts totaling up to $177 million for advanced development of MVA vaccines against smallpox. MVA is a highly weakened form of the vaccinia virus that cannot replicate in human cells.

Previous NIAID research has demonstrated that MVA nearly is as effective as the standard smallpox vaccine, making it a promising candidate for use in children and pregnant women as well as people with weakened immune systems or skin conditions such as eczema. The new contracts will allow the companies to continue the work they began under contracts awarded in 2003.