Fraunhofer wins contract for anthrax vaccine work

Fraunhofer Plants

Plants being cultivated at the Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biotechnology facility in Newark, DE. Fraunhofer could receive up to $9.9 million in the coming years for its work on improving the vaccine against anthrax / NEWS JOURNAL FILE PHOTO

A Newark-based bio-science research center has secured $1.76 million in government funding for the development of a cheaper and more effective anthrax vaccine.

If certain targets are met, the Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biotechnology could receive up to $9.9 million in the coming years for its work on improving the vaccine against anthrax, a deadly bacterial infection considered a potential terrorist weapon.

The contract awarded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, is a significant one for the Fraunhofer center, in part because it is seen as a recognition by the government of its technology’s effectiveness, said Vidadi Yusibov, director of the center.

Fraunhofer specializes in producing pharmaceutical proteins – in this case, “antigens” that help the body’s immune system react to an invader – through a plant-based process known as “transient gene expression.”

The contract is also significant because it includes a partnership between Fraunhofer and the Swedish research and development company Isconova AB, which will provide a key chemical element of the vaccine that helps stimulate the immune system’s response.

Another Delaware firm, iBio, will assist in eventual commercialization of the vaccine. Under the contract, Fraunhofer will work to devise a less costly vaccine that would require fewer injections than the three needed in previous vaccines.

Yusibov said the contract likely would mean additional jobs at the center, which now employs 90 to 100 people. He expects to see the initial “proof-of-concept” data to emerge in about a year.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has a goal of supporting research into “next-generation” anthrax vaccines that use fewer doses.

“Other vaccine technologies that might provide protective immunity more quickly and that could be stored and delivered more easily are also being pursued,” the institute said of its research goals.

Contact Eric Ruth at 324-2428, on Twitter @REricRuth or eruth@delawareonline.com.