PharmAthene experiences anthrax vaccine setback

PharmAthene, Inc., an Annapolis, Maryland-based biotechnology company, experienced a setback this month in the development of SparVax, its recombinant protective antigen vaccine against anthrax.

For unknown reasons, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a clinical hold on the company's SparVax program on August 10. The company expected to launch a clinical study by the end of 2012 but had not yet enrolled any patients, the Washington Business Journal reports.

Stacey Jurchison, a spokeswoman for PharmAthene, said the company is awaiting word from the FDA on the reasoning behind the clinical hold.

PharmAthene's rival, Emergent BioSolutions, Inc., a Rockville, Md.-based biotechnology company, currently has the only anthrax vaccine on the market. Emergent BioSolutions sold $87.5 million worth of its BioThrax anthrax countermeasure to the federal government during the first half of 2012. The company's sales were up approximately $10 million from the same period in the previous year, the Washington Business Journal reports.

Emergent BioSolutions is one of the most stable biotechnology companies as a result of its anthrax countermeasure program. If the clinical hold on PharmAthene's SparVax program becomes a major setback, BioThrax could continue to hold onto a marketplace advantage indefinitely.