U.S. pays $31 million for development of smallpox treatment

Published 7 September 2009

Florida company awarded $31 million to to produce an inhaled version of an existing smallpox drug; Danish company in negotiations with the U.S. to develop a freeze-dried form of its smallpox vaccine

The U.S. government has agreed to pay a Florida biopharmaceutical company $30.9 million to produce an inhaled version of an existing drug that would be used to treat people exposed to smallpox in a biological attack, the firm announced yesterday. Nanotherapeutics Inc. received a five-year contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Its job is to develop a new form of cidofovir, an antiviral drug now provided through injection.

Since transmission of smallpox occurs through inhalation of airborne variola virus, usually droplets expressed from the oral, nasal, or pharyngeal mucosa of an infected person, noninvasive antiviral treatment alternatives with proven agents (cidofovir) are needed,” the company said in a press release.

The inhaled drug could also be provided to those who are more likely to suffer side effects from a smallpox vaccination, such as pregnant women or people with suppressed immune systems, the release states (Nanotherapeutics Inc. release).

Meanwhile, Danish biotechnology firm Bavarian Nordic said that it is in negotiations with the United States for a contract to develop a freeze-dried form of its smallpox vaccine Imvamune. The discussions are separate from the existing contract to provide the U.S. government with 20 million doses of the drug and licensing of a liquid-frozen version of Imvamune, according to a press release.

A freeze-dried formulation of Imvamune offers various new advantages in terms of increased shelf-life and improved stability of the vaccine compared to the current liquid-frozen formulation,” the release states. “Additionally, this will improve the cold-chain shipping logistics and storage. These are all important criteria for governments around the world that prioritize their bio terror preparedness” (Bavarian Nordic release).