Dutch biotechnology group Crucell NV was yesterday celebrating news that it has won a sizeable contract by the US government to develop monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of flu.

The company said that the initial value of the contract with the government’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is $40.7 million but that it could rise to $69.1 million if extra cash is released.

Crucell has developed a set of novel human monoclonal antibodies that protect against a range of both seasonal and pandemic influenza viruses. Importantly, these antibodies are active against the seasonal H1N1 viruses - including the current pandemic swine flu virus - which have shown widespread resistance to the current first-line of defence Tamiflu (oseltamivir).

Dr Jaap Goudsmit, Crucell's chief scientific officer, emphasised the importance of the timing of the contract given that the world is currently at pandemic alert level six and the virus is showing some resistance to Tamiflu. Furthermore, he said the contract will enable the company and its partners “to pursue a new approach for the treatment of the disease caused by both seasonal and pandemic influenza strains".

Crucell said it will be the primary contractor in the new contract with extra services to be supplied by London-based groups Quintiles Guys Drug Research Unit and RetroScree, as well as Viroclinics and Central Veterinary Institute, which are located in the Netherlands.