Bio firms' fortunes revived by panic

War on terrorism: Vaccine
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The Independent US

The value of a tiny Cambridge company with a contract to provide America with smallpox vaccine has doubled in the past fortnight.

Last year Acambis won a contract for 40 million doses from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but that is likely to be dwarfed now the CDC is talking about preparing a dose for every US citizen. Scientists have gone into overdrive to develop the vaccine in its hi-tech laboratories in Cambridge and the Massachusetts town of the same name.

Acambis is forced by its contract to withhold details of where the vaccine is produced, how much the company is spending and how soon it will start supplying it. But the contract is believed to have been accelerated by at least two years, meaning that the first products should be ready by mid-2002.

Acambis employs 160 people, and is thought to have taken on staff to meet the demand. John Brown, the chief executive, has been in America this week, and says management is giving the issue the "full attention" it deserves.

The British biotech industry has been plagued by failures in recent years, Less than three years ago, it looked as if Acambis may have been doomed after its most promising allergy vaccine failed clinical tests. Now, a string of companies are reporting increased interest in treatments for anthrax and disease detection kits.

Outside Britain, the moribund German conglomerate Bayer has been revitalised. Just weeks after having to withdraw it fastest-growing drug in a health scare, Bayer is struggling to meet the demand for its Cipro antibiotic, used to treat anthrax.

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