Swiss-based global pharmaceutical giant Novartis bagged the contract to make a chemical that would boost the effectiveness of bird-flu vaccines. The $54.8 million contract was finalized on Wednesday.
The company already has more than $300 million in federal contracts to fight a possible bird-flu outbreak in humans.
Two other firms were also awarded contracts on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. GlaxoSmithKline of England got $63.3 million and Iomai of Maryland was given $14.4 million.
The government expects the companies to intensify bird-flu vaccines by employing adjuvants. These increase the body's immune response thereby reducing the quantity of vaccine required for protection.
'A vaccine that uses adjuvant could provide a way to extend a limited vaccine supply to more people,' Health and Human Services Secretary,Mike Leavitt saidin a statement.
Chicken egg technique is the conventional method of making vaccines but experts find the cell-culture method is faster in producing large quantities of bird-flu vaccine. Novartis received $220.5 million in May, from federal officials to produce a bird-flu vaccine from cell cultures in addition to two other contracts.
'These are all important contracts,' said Novartis spokeswoman Alison Marquiss, 'throwing everything we can at pandemic preparedness.'
Under the contract Novartis will attempt to make a new bird-flu vaccine adjuvant with slight changes in the existing seasonal-flu adjuvant, named MF59. MF59 was developed by Chiron from water and shark liver oil, and is used by older people who need to boost their immune systems.
Health experts opine that two doses of a vaccine might be required to protect someone against H5N1, with 90 micrograms of the antigen in each dose. The dosage of adjuvant required is still not clear.