Back in 2012, the federal government picked Texas A&M University as home to a new biosecurity center — one of three U.S. sites expected to play a key role in developing and manufacturing drugs to fight bioterrorist threats, pandemic influenza and other infectious diseases.
Four years later, the facility in College Station is starting to pay off the government’s multimillion-dollar bet.
The Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing is working on the development of a new anthrax vaccine, an 18-month project expected to cost $10.5 million, according to an order by the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
The project, led by scientists at Texas A&M University, will involve collaboration with the other “CIADM” sites in Maryland and North Carolina.
Gerry Parker, lead scientist and associate vice president for public health preparedness at Texas A&M Health Science Center, said it will take years before a final version of the anthrax vaccine will be ready, but said he believes in the potential of the product.
“It is moving us toward better preparedness for an anthrax attack,” Parker told the American-Statesman. “We are all very optimistic that this will be successful.”
The Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing was created in 2012 with a $285 million award that includes about $176 million in federal grants over five years. It is one of three so-called “CIADMs” in the country. The College Station facility is the only one affiliated with a university.
Texas officials said that the Texas A&M facility could become catalyst to boost the biopharmaceutical industry in Texas.
Texas A&M is working with Maryland-based biotechnology company Altimmune in the early phases of development of NasoShield, a nasal-delivered anthrax vaccine candidate. (It cannot be called an actual vaccine until it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.)
NasoShield is supposed to require only a single dose to protect against infections caused by inhaled anthrax. The government hopes NasoShield can be a faster-acting, lower cost, “next generation” alternative to BioThrax, which is currently the only licensed anthrax vaccine, according to Altimmune and Richard Hatchett, acting director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, as it’s known in the industry.
“Anthrax remains a material threat to our national health security,” Hatchett said in a news release. “To help combat the health impacts of an anthrax attack, BARDA partnered with several biotechnology firms in accelerating development of promising next-generation treatments against anthrax infection.”
Broadly, officials within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services envision having the Texas A&M facility — along with the sites in Maryland and North Carolina — develop and manufacture drugs to fight bioterrorist threats, pandemic influenza and other infectious diseases.
The idea for the three biosecurity centers came in the wake of the 2009 H1N1 influenza scare. At the time, according to federal officials, only one company had manufacturing facilities solely in the United States to produce the H1N1 vaccine.
The centers will make the U.S. less dependent on other countries for vaccines, federal officials say.
Together, the three centers will be capable of producing a quarter of the nation’s pandemic influenza vaccine within four months of the onset of an outbreak, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Vickie Sutton, a law professor at Texas Tech University and the director at the school’s Center for Biodefense, Law and Public Policy, said the work of the Texas A&M center complements the Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
“Texas has really been a big center for development for biodefense in the United States,” she said.
Sutton called the Texas A&M facility “absolutely vital,” since anthrax is the most likely agent for use as bio-weapon. Nasal delivery for a vaccine saves time and reduces risk, she said.
“We have been in dire need for more vaccine manufacturing capacity,” she said, and said that the U.S. is “dangerously unprepared” to respond to any pandemic.