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HHS announces contracts to develop safer smallpox vaccines

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced the award of two contracts totaling up to $20 million in first-year funding to develop safer smallpox vaccines. The three-year contracts were awarded to Bavarian Nordic A/S of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Acambis Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will administer the contracts.

To protect ourselves from the remote but extremely grave threat of a deliberate release of smallpox virus, we need a vaccine that can be safely given to all Americans, including individuals with weakened immune systems, children and pregnant women, said Secretary Thompson. The new contracts will help us meet this need by accelerating research on second-generation smallpox vaccines.

Milestone-driven contracts such as these are one way NIAID is eliciting industry participation in the search for new and improved vaccines, noted NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. These programs are designed to get reliable products into the pipeline in an economically efficient and scientifically sound manner, he added.

Acambis and Bavarian Nordic will develop, manufacture and conduct safety trials of modified vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA) vaccine candidates. Vaccinia virus, a close relative of smallpox virus, is used in traditional smallpox vaccines. A live, replicating virus, vaccinia can cause side effects, which on rare occasions can be serious and potentially life-threatening. Pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems, such as patients on chemotherapy or people with HIV/AIDS, cannot receive the current smallpox vaccine at all.

MVA is a strain of vaccinia that cannot replicate inside human cells and therefore cannot cause dispersed infection. An MVA-based vaccine given to more than 120,000 people during the smallpox eradication campaign in Germany in the 1970s had an excellent safety record. When smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980
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Contact: Anne A. Oplinger
aoplinger@niaid.nih.gov
301-402-1663
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
25-Feb-2003


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