HHS awards contracts to develop flu vaccines

Drug makers VaxInnate, Inc., and Novavax, Inc., have been awarded contracts worth a combined total of $215 million to develop flu vaccines for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to battle future pandemics.

These contracts are part of an effort to make seasonal flu vaccines available more quickly to battle pandemics and outbreaks.

Most drug makers have backed out of the market of vaccine-making because of thin profit margins, CNBC reports. By awarding contracts to companies willing to stay in the vaccine field, organizations like the World Health Organization hope that the speed and volume of production can be increased to battle the next global outbreak of flu.

"The 2009 H1N1 pandemic demonstrated the need for technologies that can provide vaccines more rapidly," Kathleen Sebelius, the HHS secretary, said in a statement Monday, according to CNBC. "These next-generation flu vaccines hold the potential to be even more effective and to make the first and last doses of vaccine available sooner than existing flu vaccines by weeks and months which can save more lives during a pandemic as well as during seasonal flu outbreaks."

The Cranbury, N.J.-based VaxInnate will develop a technology that combines bacteria and influenza proteins to stimulate a strong immune response to the flu. The Rockville, Md.-based Novavax will create technology that will make vaccines using insect cells.

The VaxInnate contract is worth $117.9 million for three years with an option to extend it for two years. The Novavax contract is worth $97 million over three years with a similar option for a two year extension.