PharmAthene says its anthrax vaccine is superior to first-generation vaccine

Published 1 March 2010

PharmAthene’s anthrax vaccine, called SparVax, will require three doses over a 60-day period — the first-generation vaccine requires five doses over 18 months; a course of treatment with the currently available vaccine costs about $125; SparVax would cost just $45 a treatment

We wrote the other day about an Annapolis, Maryland based PharmAthenes which received a large anthrax vaccine contract (according to the right-leaning FOX News, the reason was the close ties between the company’s managers and the Democratic Party; see “$150 Million Anthrax Vaccine Contract Goes to Firm with Close Democratic Party Ties,” 26 February 2010 HSNW).

HomeTown Annapolis’s Elisha Sauers offers a more detached look at the company and its anthrax vaccine contract.

The U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority last week granted the PharmAthenes an additional $78.4 million. David Wright, the company’s president and chief executive officer, says the company is one of possibly just three companies in the world working on a more advanced vaccine. Sauer motes that one of those companies is also based in Maryland — Emergent Biosolutions, a biodefense company based in Rockville, is in early development stages of a second-generation vaccine.

The timing of the award is important. PharAthenes had, for some time, been vying for a $500 million government contract that originally was solicited for both development and procurement. A few months ago the government decided to separate contracts for development and procurement.

The company’s existing funding may have dried up in about a year’s time without the infusion. “This (additional funding) removed any lag in development time that could occur from the previous cancellation of the (request for proposal), and it allows us to continue moving forward without missing a step much,” Wright told Sauer.

Wright says the next move is to obtain another contract of about $150 million for the procurement stage of the vaccine, for which PharmAthene submitted a white paper at the beginning of the month. That could be awarded as early as the fourth quarter of this year.

Wright told Sauer that the company will survive even without that contract, focusing on contracts already committed to some of PharmAthene’s other products, but he said he’s confident the government will continue supporting the vaccine’s progress. The government already has committed about $213 million to Pharmathene for the vaccine.

I don’t mean to be a fearmonger, but when you study this issue, anthrax is easily made, it’s found in the soil all throughout the U.S., so it’s not a matter of sneaking it in the country,” Wright said. “You don’t need 3,000 labs to make this - you can basically make this in a high school lab with equipment you can buy off the Internet.”

PharmAthene’s vaccine, called SparVax, is a treatment that would come in the form of three doses over a 60-day period, said Stacey Jurchison, a spokeswoman for the company. This is more efficient and cost-effective than the first-generation vaccine the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed in the 1970s that required five doses over 18 months. A course of treatment with the currently available vaccine costs about $125, Jurchison told Sauers, but if SparVax is approved for procurement, it would cost just $45 a treatment.