Zika, Ebola, COVID-19 — each of these viruses has struck fear into people and jeopardized the lives of millions when they became deadly public health threats. Yet, multinational biopharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions helped combat previous viruses, and it is prepared to take on COVID-19, the company’s President and CEO Robert G. Kramer Sr. said.
“For many, many years, we’ve been involved in public health threats that relate to emerging infectious diseases like Zika and Ebola and now COVID-19. … This is a perfect example of what we’re made for and how we built the business,” Kramer said.
The COVID-19 crisis first started to mature and materialize in early January, he continued. By the middle of January, Emergent BioSolutions had already gotten its leadership — representing its vaccine, devices and development, manufacturing, and therapeutics operations — together to assess and evaluate how the business could potentially help if this crisis were to grow into a pandemic.
Just 10 days later, the company was proactively reaching out to various government agencies, non-governmental organizations and strategic partners to let them know how they could help in fighting COVID-19, Kramer said.
Its proactive outreach led to Emergent BioSolutions partnering with two smaller biotechnology firms, Novavax and Vaxart, to help speed and scale up the manufacturing and development of the companies’ vaccine candidates.
Kramer said the Novavax vaccine is slated to go into phase one clinical trials in June and the Vaxart vaccine will follow into phase one trials in the second half of this year. He said it will only be after the vaccines prove safe for humans and show efficacy that the companies will take the vaccines to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory organizations for approval.
“Realistically a vaccine is not be going to be made available to the general public for about a year and a half,” Kramer said. “On the therapy side, however, that is different because we will quickly go into a phase two clinical trials with the therapeutic treatments later summer.”
Emergent has taken its decades-long history with the plasma-derived hyperimmune platform and quickly developed two treatments for protection against COVID-19.
Because of the significant history with this platform being FDA-approved for other products that are currently on the market today, Emergent expects to have a product available this year for patients, Kramer said.
“We have high confidence in this initial phase two clinical trial, which will be done in early summer of this year,” Kramer said. “We are confident that it will demonstrate that it is safe and effective in neutralizing the COVID-19 virus and offering very quick and immediate protections in humans.”
Kramer said Emergent’s work on the vaccines and therapeutics will be vital to saving people’s lives.
“People whose occupation puts them at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 … and vulnerable populations of people, we want to make it available to right away,” Kramer said. “This could be the only thing to save their lives.”
Kramer said although the Lansing operation is not where most of the work on the COVID-19 preventatives and treatments is being done, it is still vital to the overall production of the products.
“What started out in Lansing 22 years ago, has had an impact that is way beyond what any of us ever felt was possible, and this important work that we’re doing now simply builds on that success that was started in Lansing,” Kramer said.
“I would just like to find a way to recognize and thank our 1,800 employees on our network and team that are doing some really important work,” he added.