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U.S. Awards Moderna $176M for Bird Flu Vaccine Development

U.S. Awards Moderna $176M for Bird Flu Vaccine DevelopmentU.S. Awards Moderna $176M for Bird Flu Vaccine Development
Moderna receives $176M in funding from the U.S. government. Find out why now!

Published: July 3rd, 2024.

The US government has awarded vaccine maker Moderna a $176 million federal contract to develop a vaccine against pandemic influenza, targeting the H5N1 bird flu strain. This initiative comes amid growing concerns about a bird flu outbreak among cattle on US dairy farms.

Why it matters

There is no evidence that the H5N1 virus is spreading from human to human, and the risk to the general public remains low. However, experts warn that this could change if the virus evolves. Since the outbreak began in March, three dairy workers have been confirmed to be infected. Health officials expect this number to grow, highlighting the need for a proactive approach to vaccine development.

The federal funding

The funds from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will support the late-stage development of an mRNA-based vaccine. This technology, similar to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, has the potential to be produced quickly and effectively. Dawn O’Connell, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, emphasized the importance of this initiative during a call with reporters on Tuesday.

Moderna’s candidate bird flu vaccine is in phase one trials, with expected effectiveness data in the coming weeks. If the vaccine is deemed safe and effective, a phase three trial is slated to begin in 2025. O’Connell noted that the contract includes an option to accelerate development if the situation with the dairy cattle worsens and more human cases emerge.

Current vaccine efforts

In addition to Moderna’s efforts, the federal government has contracted CSL Seqirus to produce 4.8 million doses of a traditional bird flu vaccine. These doses, expected to be completed later this month, may be made available to farm workers at higher risk of exposure. However, these vaccines will still need final approval from the FDA and CDC before deployment.

“At this point, we remain extraordinarily watchful,” said O’Connell. She added that the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response works closely with other public health partners to determine the best action. This includes evaluating whether methods such as increased use of anti-virals in cows might be more effective than human vaccine campaigns, which historically have low uptake.

Ensuring dairy safety

The US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration have released a study confirming that flash pasteurization of milk destroys the bird flu virus. This reassures consumers that dairy products remain safe, provided they avoid raw milk products.

The bigger picture

Moderna’s contract with BARDA represents a significant step in preparing for potential public health crises. The mRNA technology used in the vaccine offers several advantages, including rapid development and production, scalability, and reliability. These features were crucial in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and could prove equally valuable in combating bird flu.

Moderna began testing their mRNA bird flu vaccine, mRNA-1018, in 2023 with healthy adult volunteers. Results from these early tests are expected later this year and will guide the next steps in the vaccine’s development.

Expert opinions

“mRNA vaccine technology offers advantages in efficacy, speed of development and production, scalability, and reliability in addressing infectious disease outbreaks, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel.

Future outlook

As the US continues to monitor the bird flu outbreak, developing an effective vaccine remains a priority. The collaboration between federal agencies and vaccine manufacturers like Moderna and CSL Seqirus highlights a comprehensive strategy to mitigate the potential threat of bird flu to public health and the agricultural industry.

The ongoing efforts to develop and test a bird flu vaccine, alongside traditional vaccine production, aim to protect high-risk populations and ensure public health safety.

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