As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has taken that advice to heart, according to an announcement from HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response. According to the announcement, HHS has awarded three-year contracts to all five US-licensed influenza vaccine manufacturers to produce master vaccine seed stocks for viruses with pandemic potential before a pandemic occurs. HHS will choose the vaccine strains to be stockpiled, and expects that with vaccine seed stock already in hand, the government will be able to respond to a flu pandemic more quickly.
The contracts also allow HHS to purchase cell-based vaccine in addition to conventional egg-based vaccine in a pandemic, which is a new initiative in the government’s pandemic response efforts. Because cells can be frozen and stored in advance of an epidemic, or developed rapidly in response to an epidemic, scale-up and production of vaccine using this method can be performed more rapidly and can more easily meet surge capacity requirements than egg-based vaccines.
According to the announcement, some of the funding will go towards clinical trials and stockpiling of vaccine and adjuvants. Current licensed seasonal flu vaccines do not contain adjuvants. However, use of adjuvants in flu vaccine would be expected to lower the amount of the antigen required per dose, and result in more doses of vaccine being available during a pandemic.
Contracts were awarded to Sanofi Pasteur, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, CSL Biotherapies, and MedImmune, and will overseen by the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Initially, HHS will commit a total of $4.4 million for the companies to produce master vaccine seed stocks and $7.3 million for the companies to store prepandemic vaccines.
“These contracts build on the lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and nearly a decade of stockpiling avian flu vaccines,” stated BARDA Director Robin Robinson in the announcement. “The increased national manufacturing capacity for pandemic influenza vaccines afforded by this effort is derived from successful public-private partnerships resulting in more U.S.-based vaccine manufacturing facilities and innovative vaccine technologies.”