Washington Editor

The federal government awarded BioPort Corp. a three-year $245 million contract to supply the Pentagon with BioThrax, an anthrax vaccine.

BioThrax, the world's only FDA-approved anthrax vaccine, has been on the market since 1970. BioPort, of Lansing, Mich., acquired the product in 1998 when it purchased the assets of its current facility from the state of Michigan, Kim Brennen Root, director of communications and government affairs for BioPort, told BioWorld Today.

The contract gives the Pentagon flexibility in the number of doses it may purchase over three years, with a maximum price of $245 million.

To BioPort, the contract represents the government's faith in the company as well as the country's commitment to protecting the armed forces, Root said.

Indeed, Bob Kramer, BioPort's president, said in a prepared statement that the contract also allows other departments, such as Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the State Department, to obtain BioThrax through the Department of Defense.

Until recent years, anthrax hasn't been the kind of disease most biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies have been interested in pursuing. In fact, BioPort said that in the early 1960s, Merck & Co. Inc., of Whitehouse Station, N.J., manufactured an anthrax vaccine on a trial basis. After it stopped production, the government asked the Michigan Department of Public Health to develop a vaccine, which it sold from 1970 to 1998.

Historically, anthrax vaccines were used by military personnel, veterinarians or mill workers, but since the attacks of Sept. 11, the customer base has expanded to include laboratory technicians and decontamination workers, Root said.

The Pentagon contract follows an FDA ruling that the use of the vaccine for inhalation anthrax is not experimental and is safe and effective. The FDA action followed U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Emmit Sullivan's recent injunction against the Pentagon, claiming the military's immunization program was illegal, based on the supposed "investigational" nature of the vaccine.

"This contract demonstrates that the parties involved are confident that recent legal actions will not, in the long run, interfere with the Pentagon's ability to immunize U.S. service members from deadly anthrax," Kramer said.

Root said BioThrax has a good safety profile with few adverse events, including possible swelling or redness at the injection site, occurrences not uncommon with other adult vaccines.

In other business, BioPort last year spent $3.4 million to purchase the assets of Antex Biologics Inc., a bankrupt firm located in Gaithersburg, Md. (See BioWorld Today, March 31, 2003.)

BioPort intends to develop Antex's vaccine candidate designed to prevent and treat infections caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. Antex in February 2003 filed an investigational new drug application for Tracvax.