Novavax trials highlight Maryland’s COVID-fighting complex

When Novavax Inc. received $1.6 billion last year from the federal government to speed up testing and production of a coronavirus vaccine, some observers were incredulous. The small biotechnology firm, based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was largely unknown and had never successfully brought a product to market.

But now that the company nears completion of its Phase 3 trials for its COVID-19 vaccine, which was found to be nearly 90% effective during clinical testing in the United Kingdom, it is grabbing headlines around the world.

Novavax’s newfound fame is casting a light not only on its own unique story, but also — more broadly — on Maryland’s growing biohealth industry. About 40 companies in Maryland are playing some role in the coronavirus response, either by producing a vaccine, medication, therapeutics, diagnostic tests or supplying research, according to Martin Rosendale, the chief executive of Maryland Tech Council, a trade association that supports technology and life science companies.

When the pandemic first surfaced, Maryland Tech Council created what it called the “Maryland COVID Coalition” that pulled together dozens of companies from across the state that were working on, or starting to work on, coronavirus-related products. The group met monthly to share research and resources. “We realized how serious it was going to be and the response was going to be happening here in Maryland,” said Rosendale. “Everybody came together, everybody realized that we needed to work together,” he said.

One of the leading companies is Emergent BioSolutions Inc., also headquartered in Gaithersburg, founded 22 years ago and best known for supplying huge amounts of anthrax vaccine to the U.S. government’s emergency medical reserves, which are stockpiled in the event of a terrorist attack. Emergent not only manufacturers its own proprietary vaccines and pharmaceuticals, but also contracts out its manufacturing capabilities to other companies and the federal government.

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