Biotechnology company, Human Genome Sciences, has won a contract from the US Government to supply an antibody drug that could be used to treat people exposed to anthrax.

Initially, the federal authorities require a sample of just 10 grammes of the antibody, called ABthrax (raxibacumab), in order to carry out preliminary testing. The company stands to receive $1.8 million dollars for this initial shipment, which should be delivered within two months. But, if these trials are positive, a much larger and more lucrative order for enough antibody to supply 100,000 doses of ABthrax could follow, said HGS in a statement. The company did not divulge how much money it would expect to receive for such an order.

The biotech joins a number of other companies benefiting from Project BioShield, the US government’s programme, initiated last year and aimed at laying down a stockpile of drugs and vaccines that could be used in the event of bioterrorism. Earlier this year, Xoma won an 18-month contract to develop and supply antibodies to counter botulinum toxin [[14/03/05f]], while UK firm Acambis has already benefited to the tune of tens of millions of dollars for its smallpox vaccines [[07/09/05d]]. Today, Acambis has also submitted a new tender offer for 20 million doses of its MVA 3000 smallpox vaccine candidate, partnered with Baxter, and should hear if it is successful in February 2006.

ABthrax first started clinical testing in 2003 [[[26/06/03f]], and was born out of a collaboration between HGS and Cambridge Antibody Technology of the UK. Other companies working on drugs and vaccines to protect against anthrax include Crucell of the Netherlands and US firms BioVeris Corp, Integrated Biopharma, Avanir Pharmaceuticals and PharmAthene/Medarex. The latter recently started Phase I trials in the USA of their anthrax antibody Valortim (MDX-1303).

But most significant to date has been the US Government’s award of an $877.5 million contract last November to California, USA-based VaxGen to supply 75 million doses of anthrax vaccine for civilian defence.