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HHS Directs $100M for Covid-19 Venture Investments

Global Covid-19

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

23 Aug. 2023. The Department of Health and Human Services is allocating $100 million for venture investments in new technologies to prepare for future threats from Covid-19. The funds are part of a $1.4 billion package for the NextGen project, announced yesterday by HHS’s Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response for a series of clinical trials, a new monoclonal antibody for prevention, and a challenge competition.

HHS is directing the $100 million of the NextGen package to the Global Health Investment Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that applies a venture investing model to fund what it calls high-impact biomedical innovations. GHIC works through partnerships with government and private entities including the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority or BARDA, an agency of HHS responsible for counteracting public health threats including emerging infectious diseases. In 2021, BARDA and GHIC established a 10-year program to create a venture portfolio for global health security, to advance new technologies in vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, and manufacturing processes.

While vaccines and therapies for Covid-19 infections receive most of the public attention, the BARDA-GHIC partnership also supports the underlying infrastructure needed for delivering these products to clinics and patients. One of the program’s portfolio companies is National Resilience Inc., known simply as Resilience, a company providing biotechnology manufacturing and distribution services. Science & Enterprise reported on the company’s initial operations in Nov. 2020 and a few times since.

Crowd-sourced competitions for new ideas

Another part of the NextGen project involving entrepreneurs is a challenge competition for new technologies applicable to Covid-19 preparedness. BARDA and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, a division of the health care products company, sponsor the Blue Knight program that conducts crowd-sourced competitions for new ideas in combating threats to public health, including infectious diseases. The NextGen initiative is allocating $10 million to encourage fresh ideas from entrepreneurs, university labs, and student teams.

In May 2023, BARDA and J&J Innovation held a $10 million Blue Knight challenge competition for vaccines, therapies and related technologies addressing potential health security threats, with prizes of up to $1 million for preclinical solutions and $3 million for entries that reach clinical development. Ten companies received awards from the competition.

The majority of new NextGen funds, $1 billion of the $1.4 billion total, is devoted to new mid-stage clinical trials testing vaccine candidates against emerging Covid-19 variants. The trials are conducted by companies taking part in BARDA’s clinical studies network established to streamline trial start-up and execution for product candidates addressing security threats from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as well as infectious diseases.

NextGen is directing another $326 million to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Tarrytown, New York for a new type of synthetic monoclonal antibody to prevent infections from SARS-CoV-2 viruses responsible for Covid-19 disease. The contract with BARDA calls for Regeneron to initially design and propose a monoclonal antibody candidate for review by BARDA and the company for subsequent development, testing, and regulatory review. Regeneron expects the new antibody candidate to begin clinical trials next year.

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Johnson & Johnson.

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