News Scan for Oct 01, 2015

More support for VSV-EBOV
HHS preparedness resources
New Bronx Legionella cases

BARDA exercises $18 million option for Ebola vaccine

NewLink Genetics today announced that the federal government has exercised an $18 million option to ramp up the production of its experimental Ebola vaccine VSV-EBOV, according to a statement from the company. The company has licensed the vaccine from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the developer of the vaccine, which is furthest along in clinical studies in the West African outbreak region.

The additional funding comes on top of a $30 million contract awarded at the end of 2014 by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). NewLink, based in Ames, Iowa, in late 2014 licensed the vaccine to Merck to speed its development.

Charles Link, the company's chief executive officer and chief scientific officer, said the additional funding will help the two companies accelerate large-scale manufacturing of VSV-EBOV and shows federal commitment to the important project. "In collaboration with Merck, we will continue to work diligently to bring this vaccine candidate to patients in need as quickly as possible." A ring vaccination trial in Guinea recently reported good results, and the vaccine is being used in both Guinea and Sierra Leone to vaccinate contacts of new cases.

Today's announcement is the federal government's second in a week for VSV-EBOV. On Sep 24 the company announced that it had received an $8.1 million award from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), part of the US Department of Defense, to support the development of the vaccine. That contract came with a $5.2 million option to support future development.
Oct 1 NewLink genetics press release
Sep 28 CIDRAP News scan "Sierra Leone begins Ebola-free countdown"


HHS launches disaster preparedness resource system

HHS yesterday unveiled a resource system designed to help communities prepare for and manage health issues related to disasters.

Under the acronym TRACIE (technical resources, assistance center, and information exchange), the resource system sponsored by HHS's Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) includes resource materials, a help line, just-in-time suggestions, and information-sharing tools learned from previous disaster experiences.

Nicole Lurie, MD, MPH, ASPR at HHS, said in a statement yesterday, "TRACIE can help health and emergency management officials across the country learn about, share, and apply best practices and experiences before, during, and after disasters to protect health and potentially save lives."

An expert group helped ASPR identify the needs of public health and medical systems, and the new system represents collaboration between stakeholders at many levels, from federal to nongovernmental, the agency said. HHS added that registration is free, and users can get advice from hundreds of health, disaster medicine, and public health experts and rate the usefulness and access to the resources.
Sep 30 HHS press release
TRACIE Web portal


Bronx Legionnaire's outbreak grows to 13 cases, 1 death

An outbreak of Legionella infections has increased to 13 cases in the Bronx, with 1 death, while the bacterium has been detected in cooling towers in two Long Island high schools, according to media reports.

All patients have underlying conditions, USA Today reported yesterday. Nine of them remain hospitalized and three have been released, the office of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said yesterday.

The legionellosis outbreak is not as serious as one in South Bronx in the summer, which sickened 128 and killed 12 people, the story said. The current outbreak is in the Morris Park neighborhood. There have been no new cases in the past 9 days, de Blasio's office said.

In related news, two cooling towers in Smithtown, near Stony Brook on Long Island have tested positive for Legionella, according to a CBSNewYork/AP report. Cooling towers at Smithtown East and Smithtown West high schools both had evidence of the bacterium.

No cases have been reported in that school district, the story said.
Sep 30 USA Today story
Oct 1 CBSNewYork/AP report

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