US funds work on drugs for plague, tularemia, anthrax

Oct 16, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The US government recently awarded contracts totaling about $34 million to two companies for development of drugs to treat pneumonic plague, tularemia, and anthrax, three of the diseases terrorists are deemed most likely to try to exploit.

Nanotherapeutics, Inc., based in Alachua, Fla., announced it had received a $20 million contract to develop NanoGENT, an inhaled form of the injectable antibiotic gentamicin, for treating pneumonic plague and tularemia.

PharmAthene, Inc., based in Annapolis, Md., announced last month that it had been awarded a contract worth up to $13.9 million for further development of a human monoclonal antibody called Valortim to be used as an anthrax antitoxin.

The contracts were awarded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), both part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Both contracts were mentioned in an Oct 5 HHS news release about four contracts to develop countermeasures for Category A bioterrorism agents. (The other two contracts were reported previously by CIDRAP News; see Oct 3 link below.)

In an Oct 11 announcement, Nanotherapeutics said NanoGENT is a powdered formulation of gentamicin to be used as early treatment for people exposed to plague, tularemia, and other respiratory infections. The company said inhaled drugs would be especially useful for providing postexposure prophylaxis and treatment on a large scale.

Gentamicin in injectable form is a first-line drug for plague and tularemia, and it has also been used in a saline nebulized form for fighting Pseudomonas respiratory infections, especially in cystic fibrosis patients, the company said.

Working with four other companies, Nanotherapeutics expects to bring NanoGENT to clinical trials in the fourth year of its NIAID-BARDA contract, the statement said. The collaborating companies are Respirics Inc., Next Breath LLC, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, and i3 Research.

PharmAthene announced on Sep 26 that its contract to develop Valortim is worth up to $13.9 million over 2 years, with up to $10.3 million to be awarded in the first year.

The company said it is collaborating with Medarex Inc., Princeton, N.J., to develop Valortim, which is designed to target protective antigen, one of the key proteins anthrax uses to attack host cells. In initial work on the product, Medarex has demonstrated a novel mechanism of action, animal efficacy, favorable human safety and pharmacokinetic data, and development of an efficient production process, according to the company news release.

According to results reported at the 2006 annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the antitoxin was well tolerated and was not immunogenic in a phase 1 clinical trial, PharmAthene reported.

The company said preclinical studies suggest the product may be effective for both prevention and treatment of anthrax.

"The latest contract from NIAID/BARDA brings the total amount of government funding allocated to Valortim to over $24 million," PharmAthene Vice President and Medical Director Valerie Riddle, MD, said in the news release.

See also:

Oct 11 Nanotherapeutics news release

Oct 5 HHS news release

Sep 26 PharmAthene news release

Oct 3 CIDRAP News story "Federal grants support new anthrax countermeasures"

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