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Avant targets anthrax-plague vaccine

Defense Dept pact relieves near-term financial woes

By Michael Baron,
Last Update: 4:01 PM ET Jan 22, 2003

NEW YORK (CBS.MW) - Shares of Avant Immunotherapeutics soared Wednesday after the company secured a deal from the Defense Department to develop an oral vaccine to combat anthrax and the plague.

The company estimates revenue from the agreement could approach $8 million over a two-year period that would cover development and pre-clinical testing.

The stock (AVAN) jumped 19 cents, or 18.3 percent, to close at $1.23, on heavy volume of 10.3 million shares.

The award comes to Avant from DynPort Vaccine Co. LLC, the prime contractor for the Defense Department's joint vaccine acquisition program, and the company sees its arrival as a financial boon.

"This contract is very important to Avant since it provides non-dilutive funding to the company and it means that Avant now has over two years of cash and cash equivalents on hand," said Una Ryan, the company's president and CEO, in a press release.

Citing its typhoid fever and cholera vaccines as examples of its standards, Avant said the proposed anthrax-plague vaccine would be designed to "require a single dose, confer immunity within days, and cause minimal side effects."

Avant explained that it plans to use its modified live vaccine technology in this project. The technology employs genetically modified bacteria as vectors, or as Avant calls them 'buses,' to deliver plague and anthrax antigens to the body and stimulate the immune system.

The company plans to conduct the research at its laboratories in Needham, Mass., and St. Louis, Mo.

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