Work on High-Speed Vaccine Factories Prompts Questions

April 30, 2014, 9:49 a.m.

Spe­cial­ists are ques­tion­ing the feas­ib­il­ity of three U.S. factor­ies be­ing built to rap­idly turn out drugs needed after an at­tack or dis­aster, Nature re­ports.

Cer­tain ana­lysts ar­gued that few use­ful an­ti­dotes are cur­rently avail­able for re­spond­ing to the types of bio­lo­gic­al and chem­ic­al events en­vi­sioned by the pro­duc­tion fa­cil­it­ies un­der pre­par­a­tion in Texas, North Car­o­lina and Mary­land, the journ­al re­por­ted on Tues­day. Ob­serv­ers also cast doubt on the util­ity of next-gen­er­a­tion small­pox vac­cines, as well as oth­er drugs that may be pro­duced at the so-called Cen­ters for In­nov­a­tion in Ad­vanced De­vel­op­ment and Man­u­fac­tur­ing.

The United States is re­l­at­ively un­likely to face a chem­ic­al or bio­lo­gic­al strike for which the factor­ies would prove use­ful, ar­gued Richard Ebright, a mo­lecu­lar bio­lo­gist with Rut­gers Uni­versity. The Texas plant is slated to be­gin gen­er­at­ing its first vac­cine in the middle of this year, and fed­er­al of­fi­cials plan in the next quarter-cen­tury to spend up to $2 bil­lion on med­ic­al treat­ments from that single fa­cil­ity.

Philip Rus­sell, a former biode­fense ad­viser for the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, sug­ges­ted the United States should have built just one such pro­duc­tion site for ci­vil­ian and mil­it­ary needs, in line with a 2008 re­com­mend­a­tion by the Pentagon’s De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Pro­jects Agency.

“Rather than one good op­er­a­tion that meets the gov­ern­ment’s needs, we got three op­er­a­tions that spread the money around,” Rus­sell said of the $440 mil­lion ini­ti­at­ive, launched in 2012 by the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment.

The cur­rent plan’s back­ers, mean­while, ar­gued that op­er­at­ing sev­er­al man­u­fac­tur­ing plants would provide a fall­back if one is com­prom­ised by a strike or re­lease of haz­ard­ous ma­ter­i­al.

In ad­di­tion to the three sites over­seen by Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, the De­fense De­part­ment is con­struct­ing a $136 mil­lion fact­ory in Flor­ida to gen­er­ate smal­ler quant­it­ies of biode­fense products for armed-forces use. That site is ex­pec­ted to op­er­ate at an an­nu­al cost of $20 mil­lion fol­low­ing its sched­uled launch in 2015.

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