Chiron has won a $62.5 million dollar contract from the US Government for vaccines against the H5N1 strain of influenza

The order is a major boost for the vaccine manufacturer, which has just reported a near 10% decline in third quarter revenues because of contamination problems at two manufacturing plants that have wreaked havoc on its ability to supply flu vaccines [[26/10/05a]]. The value of the order more than equals Chiron’s entire revenues from flu vaccines in the last quarter.

Chiron said the vaccine would be a ‘pre-pandemic’ version, designed as an initial dose to provide preliminary, partial protection in the event of a pandemic. This could then be followed later with a booster dose that would be made incorporating antigens from the specific strain of influenza virus causing the outbreak.

This is the second major order from the US federal government for an H5N1 vaccine, coming in the wake of a $100 million order awarded to Sanofi-Aventis’ vaccine subsidiary Sanofi-Pasteur last month [[16/09/05a]]. This vaccine will be made at Sanofi Pasteur’s plant in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, currently the only facility approved to make flu vaccines in the USA.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has said it wants to lay in a stockpile of pandemic flu vaccines to treat 20 million people, as well as a further 20 million courses of influenza drug treatments, notably Roche’s Tamiflu (oseltamivir), as part of its preparedness strategy against an outbreak.

Chiron said it will be able to deliver the vaccine sometime in the first half of 2006, while Sanofi Pasteur expects to supply its doses by the end of the year. The latter company had previously won a $97 million contract with the US Government to develop a faster production process for influenza vaccine [[05/04/05f]]. Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline, Akzo Nobel, MedImmune and Generex Biotechnology have all started developing their own H5N1 vaccines.

Chiron’s H5N1 vaccine will be manufactured at the company’s Speke facility in Liverpool, UK, one of the plants affected by the contamination problems and which has only recently started shipping flu vaccines again after months of halted production.

The company will supply its vaccine for testing at the US National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease later this year, and also noted that a study of a vaccine against another potential pandemic strain, H9N2, has also been completed. This uses a novel adjuvant that to enhance its effectiveness.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier said at the company’s results briefing yesterday that GSK has been using adjuvants to increase the number of flu vaccine doses that can be made from a batch of vaccine antigen. He also noted that GSK could be in a position to file for approval of a pandemic flu vaccine by the end of next year.