The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded a $21.6m contract option to NewLink Genetics.

The US biopharmaceutical company has received the contract to continue the development of the investigational rVSV-ZEBOV-GP (Ebola) vaccine candidate.

The $21.6m funding will be used to carry out clinical bridging studies, with an aim to further assess the safety, efficacy and immunogenicity of the Ebola vaccine among populations different from the original testing region.

Merck Sharp & Dohme, a subsidiary of the American pharmaceutical company Merck, owns the licence for research, development, manufacturing as well as commercialisation of the vaccine candidate.

In 2014, NewLink Genetics initially bagged a $30m contract from BARDA, with a 25-month base period ending 31 January 2017.

So far, the biopharmaceutical company has won nearly $53m in BARDA funding, while the current contract option increases the total contract amount to $74.6m.

BARDA has also extended the performance period until 11 October 2017.

NewLink Genetics chairman, chief executive officer and chief scientific officer Charles J. Link said: "BARDA is providing pivotal support and commitment to accelerated development of this Ebola vaccine candidate.

"NewLink Genetics and our partner Merck are dedicated to bringing an Ebola vaccine to patients in need."

"NewLink Genetics and our partner Merck are dedicated to bringing an Ebola vaccine to patients in need.

"This additional funding provides resources to build on the substantial progress that has been made in gathering data that is critical to moving this vaccine candidate forward."

The rVSV-ZEBOV-GP vaccine was originally developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and licensed to a subsidiary of NewLink Genetics.

In 2014, Merck licensed the Ebola vaccine from NewLink Genetics in order to apply Merck’s vaccine expertise to help enhance the development of the vaccine candidate.

Image: Ebola virus virion. Photo: courtesy of CDC / Cynthia Goldsmith.