Baxter won a contract with the Austrian government yesterday, giving it an option to supply up to 16 million doses of its pandemic influenza vaccine – enough to vaccinate the country’s entire population.

Although somewhat overshadowed by the $200 million deal announced by the US government to order pandemic vaccines from Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis earlier this week, the three-year agreement - potentially three times the size of the US deal in terms of the number of doses to be supplied - shows that Baxter is emerging fast as a player in the sector.

Baxter also is under contract to supply two million doses of its H5N1 vaccine to the UK government, and is also working with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a cell culture-based H5N1 candidate pandemic influenza vaccine.

Last month Baxter reported data from a Phase I/II clinical trial in 270 healthy adults with its inactivated wild-type H5N1 pandemic vaccine, suggesting that it is well-tolerated and highly immunogenic, eliciting functional antibodies to H5N1 even at the lowest dose level of 3.75mcg.

These preliminary data suggest that the vaccine may provide wide protection for a larger number of people before and during a pandemic, particularly as serum samples suggest that the immune response generated can neutralise both the strain included in the shot and others, including Hongkong/156/97 and Indonesia/05/05.