Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Expert: GenVec cattle vaccine safer

Britain probes possible link between foot-and-mouth outbreak and drug manufacturer

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A new kind of foot-and-mouth disease vaccine being developed by GenVec Inc. of Gaithersburg and federal agencies would be safer than current vaccines because it does not require the live virus to be manufactured, researchers say.

The British government recently announced that a strain of foot-and-mouth disease virus found in cattle on a farm in southern England is the same as the one used to produce a commercial vaccine at nearby laboratories of Merial Ltd.

A link has not been verified, but Merial has volunteered to stop production. Three separate investigations are under way to see if the airborne virus escaped the lab and infected the cattle.

Those investigations are ongoing, spokeswoman Karen Eggert of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said last week.

Globally, many outbreaks of the disease occur near the very laboratories that are making vaccines and it is possible the recent outbreak is one such instance, said Siba K. Samal, associate dean of the Va.-Md. Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

If and when the GenVec vaccine is marketed, however, it would not pose such a threat, said Samal, confirming similar statements from the company and federal scientists.

Douglas J. Swirsky, GenVec’s CFO, said the vaccine, made from bits of the causal virus, not the whole virus, is safe to make. He said it could be on the market in 18 to 30 months.

‘‘Yes, this could be commercially viable and remove some of the hurdles in advance of any outbreak,” Swirsky said.

The company anticipates a $300 million to $500 million annual market for its vaccine and has been contacted by veterinary companies as potential partners, Swirsky said.

Also, GenVec reported two weeks ago a second-quarter net loss of $4.2 million, about the same as a year ago. Revenues decreased by 28 percent to $3.7 million.

This report originally appeared in The Business Gazette.