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May 01, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 9)

PharmAthene Secures Biodefense Position

Company Stays Solely Focused on Developing Bioterrorism Countermeasure Products

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    Protexia, a recombinant form of human butyrylcholinesterase produced in the milk of transgenic goats, is being developed by PharmAthene as a pre- and post-exposure therapy for victims of a chemical nerve agent attack.

    The threat of bioterrorism will likely always loom over us. Bolstering the nation’s biodefense arsenal provides a new arena and opportunities for biotech companies. PharmAthene was among the first companies to enter the biodefense field in 2001. Its mission all along has been the development and commercialization of medical countermeasures for biodefense.

    The company’s first product was an antidote for symptomatic anthrax infections developed by scientists at Harvard University. Development of the therapy, however, was terminated when it caused anaphylactic reactions in early clinical trials. Today, the company’s portfolio contains five biodefense products, including three antianthrax agents. The company has received funding commitments for up to $554 million from the U.S. government so far, and by the end of this year the company expects to have been awarded $1 billion. 

    “This new arena is a cross between biotechnology and traditional defense contracting,” comments Eric Richman, svp, business development. The biodefense marketplace differs in some key respects from the commercial marketplace. For instance, a commercial company may have tried to solve the allergic side reactions associated with the first anthrax antidote. “But in biodefense, you look for products that are easy to use and administer to a large number of people under less than perfect circumstances,” explains David Wright, president and CEO. Additionally, biodefense products often do not require extensive safety data for approval by the FDA.

    Moreover, biodefense companies can tap into alternative sources of funding. Project BioShield, signed into law in 2004, authorizes $5.6 billion in secure funding over 10 years for the advanced development and purchase of biodefense medical countermeasures.

    In addition, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency appropriates development funds for promising biomedical countermeasures. Not only does the government pay biodefense companies to develop and advance drugs and products, but the government also buys them for the Strategic National Stockpile. “The government is our main customer,” says Richman. 

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