Cranbury, N.J.- based biotechnology company VaxInnate was one of two companies awarded federal contracts worth a combined $215 million Monday to develop a new generation of flu vaccine.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contracts are aimed at making vaccines available more quickly in the face of outbreaks or pandemics.
According to Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the flu vaccine has been made essentially the same way since the 1940s: the virus is inserted into eggs, grown, purified, and then inactivated with formaldehyde.
“We use the same technology that we used 70 years ago,” Offit said. “So can we make it faster and more predictably? Absolutely.”
It now takes about six months to make the flu vaccine. A new line of vaccines made in mammalian cells instead of eggs are in the development process, but the current government contracts focus on an entirely different process for vaccine production.
At VaxInnate, researchers insert virus DNA into bacteria. That bacteria grows the protein our bodies react to when infected with the flu, and that protein is in turn made into a vaccine.
Alan Shaw, chief scientific officer of VaxInnate, said the new vaccine will take about half the time to make as what is on the market now, or about three months. That will allow for faster reactions to pandemics like the H1N1 flu.
“I think this is a way of revolutionizing the way that we make influenza vaccines,” Shaw said. “It’s faster, cheaper and better.”
The new vaccine is expected to make it to market in five or six years.
Rockville, Md.-based Novavax also won a contract to develop vaccines using insect cells.