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Emergent BioSolutions flaunts $75m anthrax vaccine production facility

By Gregory Roumeliotis , 22-Aug-2006

Buoyed by lucrative biodefense contracts, Emergent BioSolutions has showcased a new large-scale vaccine production facility in Michigan which it will use to make Biothrax, the only vaccine approved in the US for the prevention of anthrax infection.

Construction of the 50,000-square-foot facility in Lansing is expected to finish next year, with manufacturing operations starting in 2008 and supporting the company's other two manufacturing plants in Frederick.

In an age of widespread terrorism fears, anthrax is considered by the US government to be one of the top biothreat agents, resulting in booming business for Emergent BioSolutions, which gets 97 per cent of its revenues from government contracts, primarily the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department ofDefense.

 

Last week the company announced it will sell shares of stock in an initial public offering (IPO) that could raise as much as $86m (€65m), making it an attractive proposition for investors not just because of its past performance - few biotech companies have been profitable for three years in a row - but also because of its prospects.

 

Emergent BioSolutions already has guaranteed income for 2007 after signing a $120m deal to deliver 5m doses of BioThrax vaccine to the US government, all it needs now is capacity, hence the new facility.

 

"This building represents a major investment in our biodefense business, and significantly expands our core manufacturing capabilities," said Emergent BioSolutions CEO Fuad El-Hibri.

 

"When we purchased this facility from the state in 1998, we could only dream of being where we are today and with the support of our employees, our customers, the city of Lansing, and the state of Michigan, that dream is now a reality."

 

The company was set up in Michigan in May 1998 under the name BioPort but a reorganisation made it a subsidiary of the larger Emergent BioSolutions.

 

Its lead and only product on the market, Biothrax, is unlikely to remain the only anthrax vaccine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for long; VaxGen has already been awarded an $877.5m contract by the US Department of Health and Human Services to provide 75m doses of a modern anthrax vaccine, currently in dvelopment, while Human Genome Sciences has won a $165m contract to supply 20,000 of its candidate which has reached Phase I.

 

Biothrax is a sterile, milky-white suspension made from cell-free filtrates of microaerophilic cultures of an avirulent, nonencapsulated strain of Bacillus anthracis, the microbe that causes anthrax.

 

The production cultures are grown in a chemically defined protein-free medium consisting of a mixture of amino acids, vitamins, inorganic salts and sugars.

 

The final product, prepared from the sterile filtrate culture fluid, contains proteins, including the 83kDa protective antigen protein released during the growth period.

 

It contains no dead or live bacteria and is formulated to contain 1.2mg/mL aluminum, added as aluminum hydroxide in 0.85 per cent sodium chloride.

 

Emergent BioSolutions is using the revenue Biothrax is generating to move other vaccines through its pipeline for Hepatitis B, chlamydia and meningitis B.

 

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