The ability of the United States to prepare for and respond to biological threats heavily relies on further development of drug and vaccine medical countermeasures, an area requiring significantly more attention from the federal government, a Bavarian Nordic (BN) executive says.
“Vaccines and drugs have been developed for some of the highest-risk biological threats -- such as smallpox and anthrax – but a number of significant gaps remain; and unfortunately, the funding, incentives and innovation needed to fill those gaps are sorely lacking,” Seth Lewis, vice president of investor relations for BN, recently told BioPrepWatch.
Specifically, Lewis said that BN -- a Denmark-based biotech company focused on developing, manufacturing and commercializing cancer immunotherapies and vaccines for infectious diseases – concurs with recommendations released last month by the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, which is led by former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and former Pennsylvania Governor and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Thomas Ridge.
The study panel’s comprehensive assessment of the biological threats facing the U.S. found that these threats are complex, imminent, and require a higher level of prioritization and funding.
Among its recommendations, the study panel has called for the creation of a medical countermeasures program for emerging infectious disease threats that have the potential to cause a pandemic. Under such a program, certain vaccine and therapeutic product candidates could be developed using platform technologies up to the point of initial clinical studies, with commercial scale manufacturing capacity available to be called upon only when the risk increases or the disease emerges, according to the study panel’s report.
“We believe the study panel hit the nail on the head with a number of their recommendations, in particular, the need for innovation, incentives and adequate funding for medical countermeasure development,” Lewis told BioPrepWatch.
Additionally, Lewis said, the study panel points out that while progress has been made, U.S. biodefense policy and programs still lack a comprehensive, coordinated strategy, and high-level leadership to drive innovation and action.
“With biological threats looming from terrorist groups and Mother Nature, the study panel seems to believe that a sense of urgency is needed so the world is not caught flat footed again when the next threat materializes,” Lewis said.
More such stockpiles of medical countermeasures also are needed in the U.S., he said.
For its part, Bavarian Nordic currently supplies a non-replicating smallpox vaccine called IMVAMUNE to the U.S. government stockpile, Lewis said.
“We are also partnering with Janssen to supply an Ebola vaccine, and are developing a multivalent vaccine that protects against both Ebola and Marburg,” he added.
Lewis also said that BN is “using our broadly applicable MVA-BN platform technology [and has] a few other vaccine candidates in preclinical development for biothreat agents.”
The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense report is available at www.biodefensestudy.org.