US awards Moderna $176 million to produce bird flu vaccine


The US government has awarded $176 million to Moderna to advance development of its bird flu vaccine, the company said on Tuesday, as concerns rise over a multi-state outbreak of H5N1 virus in dairy cows and infections of three dairy workers since March.

The funds from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will be used to complete late-stage development and testing of a pre-pandemic mRNA-based vaccine against H5N1 avian influenza, the company added in a statement.

The agreement also includes additional options to prepare and accelerate a response to future public health threats, it said.

In March, US officials reported the first outbreak of the H5N1 virus in dairy cattle, which has since infected more than 130 herds in 12 states.

Scientists are concerned that exposure to the virus in poultry and dairy operations could increase the risk that the virus will mutate and gain the ability to spread easily among people, touching off a pandemic.

Last year, Moderna started a safety and immunogenicity study of its bird flu vaccine called mRNA-1018 in healthy adults aged 18 and older. That study included both the H5 subtype of bird flu that is currently circulating in dairy cattle, as well as the H7 bird flu subtype.

Results of that study are expected this year and will be used to map out late-stage development plans, the company said.

Moderna's vaccine uses mRNA, or messenger RNA, the technology in its COVID-19 shot.

"mRNA vaccine technology offers advantages in efficacy, speed of development and production, scalability, and reliability in addressing infectious disease outbreaks, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic," Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement.

Manufacturing of conventional flu vaccines using cell or egg-based technology can take four to six months.

US officials have said they were moving bulk vaccine from CSL Seqirus that closely matches the current virus into finished shots that could provide 4.8 million doses if needed.

Those doses would potentially be used to inoculate farm workers and others at risk of exposure to the virus. For the general public, US and global health officials say the risk from bird flu remains low.

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