Recall that the current anthrax vaccine manufacturer has never developed and brought to market a single drug. The anthrax vaccine was developed by the US army. The company has purchased other companies, such as Cangene, that do have a few marketable products, though the market for them is small. It is also marketing a nerve gas decontamination skin cream developed by the Canadian government.
But Emergent BioSolutions, the anthrax vaccine manufacturer, has understandably high hopes and great expectations. The company has been repeatedly smiled upon by the US government, earning billions of dollars for anthrax vaccine itself, for testing the vaccine, for developing new vaccines, for storing the vaccine, and for promises. Now the company is making another promise, to produce drugs for Ebola. You see, the company gets paid for the promise to try and develop such a product. The company will earn considerably more if a product actually emerges and is manufactured. But so far, all the other products EBS was paid to develop have not panned out.
But why should that get in the way of giving them yet another contract to develop a desperately needed product? From Bloomberg:
Emergent BioSolutions, the maker of an anthrax vaccine, will develop and produce an experimental Ebola drug, the US government said Wednesday.
The Department of Health and Human Services reached a two-year agreement that gives Emergent $19.7 million to develop the drug for clinical trials and, if successful, to scale up production for potential stockpiling, the agency said in an e-mailed statement.
Emergent, based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, makes the only anthrax vaccine cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the product website. It also makes treatments for patients with blood disorder hemophilia B and hepatitis B.
The Ebola drug to be developed is similar to ZMapp, the experimental drug made by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which was given to American health worker Kent Brantly and other Ebola victims last year until supplies ran out.
ZMapp is a cocktail of three antibodies grown in modified tobacco plants. Emergent’s version uses the same antibodies but will grow them in mammalian cells, which can produce higher quantities of the molecules.
HHS and Emergent didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on when human trials may begin.