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$36 million grant to fund development of vaccine for Lassa virus in Baltimore

Two Baltimore firms will work to develop and manufacture a vaccine for the Lassa virus, a deadly emerging threat in Africa, under a $36 million grant from a global disease preparedness organization.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations will provide up to $36 million over five years to Baltimore-based Profectus BioSciences and its contractor Emergent BioSolutions, which is based in Gaithersburg but has significant operations in Baltimore.

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The grant is the second the two companies have received from the coalition, which is based in Oslo, Norway. It follows a spike in reports of the rat-borne virus, which is similar to Ebola and can cause organ disease and potentially deadly fever.

This year, more than 120 people in Nigeria have been killed by the Lassa virus, which the World Health Organization has identified as an emerging threat and priority for vaccine development.

The coalition is providing $4.3 million in the first phase to Profectus, a clinical-stage vaccine development company.

The money will allow the companies to advance work on a vaccine that started under the federal government.

The goal is to bring a vaccine to clinical trials within about two years, said Sean Kirk, Emergent’s senior vice president for manufacturing operations and head of the firm’s contract manufacturing business unit in Baltimore.

Kirk said much of Emergent’s work on the project will occur at its Bayview facility in Baltimore, home to the company’s Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing.

The firm currently employs about 90 to 100 people there, as well as about 200 at a separate complex in Camden.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations was established in 2016 as a public-private entity to combat the emergence of epidemics by pushing early stage vaccine development. It’s funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Economic Forum, the Wellcome Trust and the governments of Germany, India, Japan and Norway.

The coalition awarded Profectus and Emergent a grant worth up to $25 million in May to advance the development of a vaccine against the Nipah virus, a bat-borne virus that can spread to both humans and livestock. Nipah can cause encephalitis and respiratory disease. Outbreaks have occurred in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Singapore.

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