U.S. nearing deal to fund bird flu vaccine trial

by | May 30, 2024

The U.S. government is on the verge of finalizing a deal to fund a late-stage trial of Moderna's mRNA-based bird flu vaccine, aiming to enhance its pandemic vaccine reserves as the H5N1 outbreak continues to impact egg farms and cattle herds.

Sources familiar with the matter indicate that funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) could be secured as soon as next month. This financial support is expected to amount to several tens of millions of dollars and may include an agreement to purchase doses if phase-three trials are successful.

Simultaneously, discussions are ongoing between the government and Pfizer regarding the development of its mRNA vaccine targeting the H5 family of viruses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that bird flu has been found in poultry farms across 48 states and in dairy cow herds in nine states, marking one of the most severe outbreaks in recent history. The CDC has also recorded two cases involving dairy workers in recent months, raising concerns about potential human transmission.

Although US health authorities still classify the public health risk from bird flu as low, efforts to expand and diversify the pandemic vaccine stockpile have accelerated. Last week, federal health officials announced plans to fill 4.8 million vials from the current stock of protein-based bird flu vaccines and confirmed ongoing discussions with Moderna and Pfizer.

For mRNA vaccine manufacturers, contributing to the US pandemic vaccine stockpile presents a significant commercial opportunity, especially as their market valuations have declined since the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Moderna's share price, for instance, has risen nearly 37 percent since early April.

Moderna has finished dosing participants in a mid-stage trial of its H5 pandemic flu vaccine, with interim results expected soon. Pfizer, in a statement on Wednesday, expressed readiness to develop a vaccine for strategic stockpiles and confirmed it began a phase-one trial for a pandemic flu vaccine last December.

Applications for BARDA grant funding for an mRNA-based pandemic flu vaccine closed in December last year, according to a project proposal seen by the Financial Times. However, the current bird flu outbreak has intensified the urgency of these discussions. Federal officials acknowledge that ‘the rapid development and deployment of mRNA vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted their advantages over traditional vaccine technologies.’

The US government's existing pandemic vaccine portfolio, including vaccines from GSK, Sanofi, and CSL Seqirus, offers immunity against the current strain of bird flu based on laboratory tests. However, these vaccines utilize more time-consuming manufacturing processes involving egg- and cell-based cultures.

 

Financial Times

 

 

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