U.S. Coronavirus Response Could Include These BioHealth Capital Region Organizations

The streets of Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak — are empty and quiet except for the sound of loudspeakers squawking quarantine instructions to its sheltered-in-place residents. Flights to some Chinese cities have been terminated. A Tokyo, Japan-based travel agency has canceled nearly 20,000 of its Chinese package tours

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the coronavirus, which has already killed more people than SARS, a global health emergency. There are currently 11 people stricken with the novel virus in the U.S. and over 17,000 are infected globally with numbers jumping exponentially by the day. 

Health experts fully expect the coronavirus to reach pandemic levels in the near future. 

The recently released Netflix original docuseries, Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak, no longer seems like a long-shot. Research scientists at universities, government agencies, and life science companies are now on the front line of the battle to create a coronavirus vaccine to thwart its spread. 

The BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) has a long history of leading the fight against new, frightening illnesses. In 1989, when the only known U.S. outbreak of Ebola struck research monkeys housed in Virginia, Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland played a major role in containing the virus. Years later, one of two promising treatments for the disease is being developed by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Frederick. The most recent Ebola vaccine clinical trials were funded, in part, by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Some of the organizations that will be asked to join the fight against coronavirus are right here in our own backyard. Let’s take a look at a few of the companies that have the capability to contribute to the fight against existing and emerging infectious diseases.

Emergent Biosolutions

Gaithersburg, Maryland’s Emergent Biosolutions is poised and capable of aiding in the fight against infectious diseases and biological threats. Emergent is currently a key cog in the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) anthrax preparedness strategy. In 2016, the company was awarded a multi-faceted contract with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to add nearly $1B in anthrax vaccines to the U.S. stockpile.

The company’s new Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADM) facility, located in Baltimore, Maryland is one of only three in the U.S., which is a result of a multi-year public-private partnership with BARDA. The company’s 20-year track record as a leading provider of preparedness solutions to the U.S government laid the groundwork for its selection as a BARDA partner in this unique public-private partnership to build and operate the 56,000 square foot expansion capable of rapidly responding to significant public health threats, including pandemic flu outbreaks. The facility is capable of multi-platform, multi-process and multi-scale production using cross-functional manufacturing suites that can produce cell culture, microbial and viral hosts. Equipment and technology platforms can be added or removed efficiently to accommodate various processes, including the emergency production of the pandemic flu vaccine.

Emergent’s CIADM plays a significant role in national biodefense efforts. Should a flu pandemic be declared the facility can produce 50 million flu vaccine doses within four months, putting it on the front lines of national security and public health preparedness.

Novavax

Novavax is yet another Gaithersburg-located organization that has been at the epicenter of battling emerging infectious diseases. Novavax, which entered into a strategic partnership with Catalent and Paragon Bioservices in June 2019, spearheaded efforts to combat the new 2009 H1N1 or Swine novel virus.

In the spring of 2009, the H1N1 virus emerged in the U.S. and spread quickly as seasonal flu vaccines did not work effectively and younger people had any existing immunity to the new virus. In the span of one year, according to the CDC, over 60 million people were infected, resulting in over 12,000 deaths in the U.S. Globally, the CDC estimated that somewhere between 150,000 and 570,000 deaths were attributed to H1N1, many of which were individuals younger than 65. 

Novavax eventually developed a vaccine for H1N1 in just 11 weeks, announcing the breakthrough just a few months after the emergence of the swine flu. The company has a rich history of combating novel infectious diseases, including the Ebola virus. Novavax is also developing NanoFlu, a nanoparticle, quadrivalent flu vaccine for adults over 65 currently, which started Phase III trials in October 2019. 

Novavax received the coronavirus strain in early January and is one of a number of companies currently in hot pursuit of a coronavirus vaccine.

Profectus Biosciences

Located in Baltimore, Maryland and Pearl River, New York, Profectus Biosciences is a clinical-stage vaccine development company focused on preventative and therapeutic infectious disease treatments. 

The company’s novel approach uses a proprietary technology platform that “tailors effective immune responses to specific targets.” Profectus’ Prime/Boost System of Vaccines (PBS Vax™) platform can “tune” the immune response to specific targets and disease contexts. The company’s novel approach, according to the company’s website, “…overcomes the shortcomings of current DNA and classic prophylactic vaccines, enabling us to address targets of high unmet medical need.”

In the summer of 2018, Profectus Biosciences and Emergent Biosolutions were awarded a $36M contract from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) for the advancement of a vaccine to fight the Lassa Virus. Profectus and Emergent also received a $25M contract from CEPI to advance a vaccine for the Nipah Virus

The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasure Center (NBACC)

Located in Frederick, Maryland at Fort Detrick, the NBACC is at the tip of the spear when it comes to biodefense research, assessments, preparedness, and response. The NBACC was formed in response to the anthrax attacks of 2001 and was launched along with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002. 

The NBACC is managed by Battelle National Biodefense Institute (BNBI) as a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC). The Center collaborates closely with NIH and the Department of Defense (DOD) in its biodefense research efforts. Its 150 staff members operate out of a 160,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility replete with more than 50,000 square feet of lab space. The facility contains the National Bioforensic Analysis Center (NBFAC)  and the National Biological Threat Characterization Center. The Center exists to fill gaps in scientific knowledge about biological agents that could be public threats; the NBACC also helps determine what vaccines and therapies need to be developed as countermeasures to existing and emerging biological agent threats.  

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Steven Surdez

Steven Surdez

Principal at StoryCore
Steve has over 20 years experience in copywriting, developing brand messaging and creating marketing strategies across a wide range of industries, including the biopharmaceutical, senior living, commercial real estate, IT and renewable energy sectors, among others. He is currently the Principal/Owner of StoryCore, a Frederick, Maryland-based content creation and execution consultancy focused on telling the unique stories of Maryland organizations.

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