LANSING, Mich. — Emergent BioSolutions Inc. is planning to open a new Michigan facility to expand production of its BioThrax anthrax vaccine to protect U.S military personnel against a leading biological weapons threat.
The Rockville, Md.-based company said it could take until 2014 or 2015 until the Lansing facility completes a review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and receives certification, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Large-scale production has been a challenge and the expansion will help meet that goal, said company chief executive and president Daniel Abdun-Nabi.
“The reality is that BioThrax is the gold standard for anthrax vaccinations,” said Abdun-Nabi. “The last challenge … is to provide large-scale production.”
Emergent BioSolutions announced in 2011 that the U.S. government formally ordered 44.8 million doses of BioThrax anthrax vaccine in an agreement worth as much as $1.25 billion over five years.
Anthrax has long been considered a potential weapon. When inhaled, it kills 75 percent of those who go untreated. No large-scale attack has ever been mounted, but experts say they consider the threat a real one.
Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center, questioned whether billions of dollars spent on vaccines are justified.
“Where is the evidence there are any terrorists in any country that have the capability to weaponize anthrax and successfully deliver it?” she asked.
In 2001, five people died in the anthrax-letter attacks in the U.S. last July, U.S. House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Howell, asked for guaranteed funding for stockpiling and developing vaccines, saying there remains “real and imminent threats.”
Anthrax “is your No. 1 threat organism,” said Jeffrey Adamovicz, a research microbiologist at the Wyoming State Veterinary Lab and a former chief bacteriologist in the Army’s infectious disease lab in Maryland.
The U.S. is seeking to develop more advanced vaccines. For now, BioThrax will remain a significant part of the stockpile, said Robin Robinson, director of the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“It’s an insurance policy,” Robinson said of BioThrax. “We don’t know if these other vaccines are going to work.”