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Rogers' biodefense bill clears Congress

Legislation may boost Emergent, a Lansing firm
By Katherine Hutt Scott
State Journal correspondent

WASHINGTON - A bill co-authored by Rep. Mike Rogers that could provide a boost to vaccine manufacturers - including Emergent BioDefense Operations of Lansing - awaits the president's signature after winning final congressional approval as part of larger public health legislation.

The House of Representatives approved the bill early Saturday before adjourning for the year. The Senate approved the bill earlier last week.

President Bush was expected to sign it into law but it wasn't clear when. His office was sorting through dozens of bills that Congress passed last week in a rush to finish for the year.

The part of the bill that Rogers, R-Brighton, co-authored with Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., would create a new federal group to research and develop vaccines, drugs and other responses to bioterrorism and outbreaks of diseases such as avian flu. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority would be a part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Under the bill, the department could make advance payments to vaccine and drug manufacturers to help them finish developing new products.

"This measure opens up opportunities for hundreds of companies across the nation to help make and keep Americans safe," Rogers spokeswoman Sylvia Warner said Tuesday.

Emergent, formerly known as BioPort Corp., has a $120 million contract to deliver 5 million doses of anthrax vaccine to Health and Human Services by May 2007.

The vaccine will be part of a stockpile of medicines, called Project BioShield, designed to protect Americans during a terrorist attack.

Emergent also is in the process of delivering 5 million doses of anthrax vaccine over three years to the Department of Defense under a separate $124 million contract.

Emergent spokesman Robert Burrows said the bill signals to his industry that the government is committed to bioterror countermeasures.

"Longer term, this clearly creates a more enticing environment for companies and may provide help for other areas of our portfolio," Burrows said.

Emergent, which employs 325 people at its Lansing anthrax-manufacturing plant, also is working to make its vaccine suitable for mass immunizations, Burrows said.

Other projects include developing vaccines for botulism, typhoid, hepatitis B, meningitis B and Group B strep.

Emergent's parent company, Emergent BioSolutions of Gaithersburg, Md., went public in November. Six company executives, including chairman Fuad El-Hibri, and El-Hibri's wife donated a total $13,100 to Rogers' re-election campaign this year, federal election records show.