WASHINGTON Pharmaceutical companies including GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Novartis AG will get federal money to help develop medicines against pandemics and bioterrorist threats, the U.S. government said on Monday.
The two drugmakers - among the world's largest vaccine makers - as well as U.S.-based Emergent Biosolutions Inc will work with U.S. universities and smaller biotechnology companies at one of three centers to develop and manufacture the medicines.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the partnership to ensure enough critical medicines - such as protection against pandemics like influenza or biological attacks like anthrax - are manufactured within U.S. borders.
"We anticipate that together, the centers will be able to produce a quarter of a nation's pandemic influenza vaccine within four months of the onset of a pandemic," said Dr. Nicole Lurie, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS.
In 2009, only one H1N1 vaccine maker had facilities that were located only in the United States, she said.
The contracts also aim to help smaller biotech companies to turn their ideas into successful products.
The bulk of the government's initial $400 million contract will go towards maintaining or expanding manufacturing facilities to make sure they can make several different medicines, and easily switch from one medicine to another in case of an emergency.
GlaxoSmithKline will be part of a $176 million five-year contract in Texas, Novartis will head a $60 million four-year contract in North Carolina, and Emergent will work on a $163 million eight-year contract in Maryland.
The contracts can be renewed for up to 25 years and will be overseen by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority within HHS.
(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)
(The story corrects throughout the June 18 story to clarify that companies will receive government contracts, not grants)