The U.S. has $1.9 billion available for new biotech initiatives that can fight off the biologic threats of the future. And in just the last few days the government's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority handed out contracts worth potentially more than $100 million to help accelerate work on a range of drug and vaccine development technologies.
The R&D push is occurring as the Department of Health and Human Services is pushing through a major revamp of its biodefense initiative, which includes $678 million that will go to nonprofit groups that in turn will pump money into small biotech firms working in the field, according to a report in Global Security Newswire. The overall goal, says HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is to create a "nimble, flexible capacity to produce medical countermeasures rapidly in the face of any attack or threat."
Much of that cash will go to new therapies for biologic weaponry like anthrax. But the lion's share of the money, $822 million, is being spent on vaccine technology with an eye to radically reducing the amount of time it takes to deliver large stockpiles of vaccines to ward off a pandemic. During the swine flu pandemic, officials were repeatedly grilled over the time it takes to develop and produce large quantities of new vaccines. Sebelius insists that the old egg-based vaccine production system is outdated and far too slow.
Sebelius is particularly interested in backing new technologies that can clear the R&D bottlenecks that develop for these countermeasures. As a result, PATH, Pfenex and VaxDesign, among others, won major contracts to help advance new production techniques. Much more money is on its way.