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US close to deal to bankroll Moderna bird flu vaccine trial

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The U.S. government is nearing a deal to fund an advanced trial of Moderna’s pandemic bird flu mRNA vaccine, hoping to bolster its pandemic vaccine stockpile as an H5N1 outbreak spreads in the egg farms and among cattle herds.

Federal funding for the government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, known as Barda, could arrive as soon as next month, according to people familiar with the discussions.

It is expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars and could be accompanied by a commitment to acquire doses if phase three trials are successful, they said.

Talks between the government and Pfizer to support the development of its mRNA vaccine targeting the H5 family of viruses are also underway. Pfizer, like Moderna, played a central role in providing mRNA vaccines for Washington’s vaccine rollout during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Avian flu has been detected on poultry farms in 48 states and in dairy herds in nine states in one of the worst outbreaks in recent history, according to the state Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -United. The CDC also reported two cases affecting dairy workers in recent months, heightening concerns about the spread of the virus in human populations.

U.S. health officials continue to classify the public health risk from avian flu as low, but their efforts to build and diversify pandemic vaccine stocks have accelerated. Federal health officials said last week that the government was moving forward with plans to fill 4.8 million vials of its existing portfolio of protein-based bird flu vaccines and was in the process of discussion with Moderna and Pfizer.

The ability to contribute to the U.S. stockpile of pandemic vaccines also represents a business opportunity for mRNA vaccine makers, whose stock valuations have fallen significantly from pandemic highs. Moderna’s stock price is up nearly 37 percent since the beginning of April.

Moderna has completed dosing a mid-stage trial of its H5 pandemic flu vaccine, with interim data expected soon. Pfizer said in a statement Wednesday that it “would be prepared to deploy the company’s capabilities to develop a vaccine for strategic stockpiles,” confirming that it had launched a phase one trial for a pandemic flu vaccine in last December.

Applications for a Barda grant for an mRNA-based pandemic flu vaccine closed in December last year, according to a project proposal seen by the Financial Times. But the avian flu outbreak has increased the urgency of negotiations, with federal officials recognizing that the speed with which mRNA vaccines were designed and deployed during the Covid-19 pandemic showed their value over vaccine technology more traditional.

Vaccines from GSK, Sanofi and CSL Seqirus, which make up the US government’s current pandemic vaccine portfolio, provide immunity against the current strain of avian flu, according to laboratory tests, but rely on a longer manufacturing process using eggs and eggs. cell cultures.

The U.S. Department of Health, Moderna and Pfizer declined to comment on potential funding.

News Source : www.ft.com
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