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British firm works on anthrax vaccine


Avecia has become a competitor to supply the U.S. But Emergent BioSolutions hasn't given up.

WASHINGTON -- A British company is now a leading contender in the federal government's search for a better anthrax vaccine.

Avecia Biologics Ltd. has tested its experimental vaccine in animals and humans, and plans to seek a contract to supply the U.S. civilian stockpile.

A formal solicitation to prospective suppliers of a genetically engineered vaccine could come this month, federal health officials said.

Avecia's vaccine appears "to be on track and doing pretty well," said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The company has received about $75 million in federal grants.

Meanwhile, the government's current anthrax-vaccine supplier, Emergent BioSolutions Inc., is not standing still. It is seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for expanded use of its product. Emergent is trying to show through research trials that its vaccine can provide immunity within six months instead of the current 18 months. The company is also exploring whether administering the vaccine differently would reduce side effects.

The benefits foreseen from a new, genetically engineered product "could be accomplished by using this vaccine smarter," said Dr. Tom Waytes, Emergent's vice president for medical affairs.

Gerald W. Parker, a senior federal health official and bioweapons expert, said the country would be better served by having more than one manufacturer supplying anthrax vaccine.

"We need to not put all of our eggs in one basket," Parker said. "We don't want to be dependent upon one technology, one manufacturer, for this threat."