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Another coronavirus vaccine is in the works in Maryland labs

Two Maryland biotech firms said Tuesday they will join the effort to make a vaccine against the new coronavirus that is sickening people in the state and across the globe.

Emergent BioSolutions Inc. will produce the experimental vaccine that was developed by Novavax Inc. to protect against COVID-19 by using a genetically engineered protein nanoparticle technology.

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The effort is among others in government and private labs to develop a vaccine on an expedited basis, though a commercially available product isn’t expected immediately. Government health officials say it will be a year to a year and a half before one is developed, tested for safety and efficacy and manufactured for public use.

Emergent said testing in humans for safety, a phase 1 trial, would begin in the next four months.

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Emergent is a Gaithersburg-based company that makes its own vaccines and other therapies and produces them for other pharmaceutical companies. It has two in Baltimore that will be involved in the production. Gaithersburg-based Novavax makes vaccines for known and emerging infectious diseases.

Emergent has contracts with the federal government agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, to produce vaccines to counter public health threats such as anthrax and flu, as well as develop new defenses against the Zika and Ebola viruses and cyanide exposure.

“The increasing threat of COVID-19 requires a comprehensive response and we continue to evaluate various vaccine, therapeutic, and [contract manufacturing] approaches to enable us to marshal resources to make a meaningful impact on this global public health emergency,” said Robert G. Kramer Sr., Emergent’s president and CEO, in a statement.

Emergent said drug substances will be produced at the company’s plant by the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and final products will be produced at the fill, finish and packaging facility in the Carroll-Camden Industrial Area.

Novavax also announced Tuesday that it was awarded $4 million to accelerate coronavirus vaccine development from the foundation Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the pair were in discussions about additional funding for the coming trial.

“This first stage of funding from CEPI is critical to enable ongoing development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidates,” said Stanley C. Erck, president and CEO of Novavax. “We commend CEPI for its role as a vital partner to bridge the funding gap for innovative biotech companies like Novavax, which have robust vaccine technology platforms. Novavax is working tirelessly to create a vaccine against this growing epidemic.”

The University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development also is already working on a vaccine for the new virus as part of a consortium established by the National Institutes of Health at Emory University in Atlanta to quickly tackle new infectious diseases.

Dr. Kathleen Neuzil, director of the Maryland center, is co-leading the project, has said the group’s vaccine will be based on a vaccine for another coronavirus and the initial trial would be in the spring.

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