Royal danish ministry of foreign affairs - Go to the frontpage of   Publication  


SMALLPOX: Smallpox is much feared as a potential biological weapon, yet currently stockpiled vaccines can only be used for 75% of those who especially need protection. But now Bavarian Nordic has developed a vaccine for everyone.

Besides being a state-of-the-art pharmaceutical factory, Bavarian Nordic’s production facilities serve as an incubator for chickens. The company is a major producer of chicken embryo cells, which are used as growth media for the smallpox vaccine Imva-mune.

Although no cases of smallpox have been registered anywhere in the world since 1980, the threat of its reappearance is very real. An outbreak can occur in several ways. It could be as a result of a terror attack, or a species-jump from animals to humans, or the mutation of an existing virus, or its escape from a secure virus storage facility. With a virus incubation period of up to 14 days, and with a world population constantly travelling from one part of the world to another, a smallpox outbreak would be a catastrophe for thousands of people.

Vulnerable groups
For this reason many countries have stockpiled large quantities of smallpox vaccine in readiness for a potential outbreak.

But there is a problem with existing stocks of vaccine. For a quarter of all the people with the greatest need for protection, the current vaccine might kill them rather than save them. They are people with insufficiently robust immune defences: children, the elderly, HIV positive, cancer patients, pregnant women and people with organ transplants.

Now a Danish research based company, Bavarian Nordic, has developed a smallpox vaccine which can be used by all, and is free of side effects.

Order from USA
“The vaccine, called Imvamune, has been supported by the American health authorities throughout the testing period,” says Rolf Sass Sørensen, Vice President of Bavarian Nordic. “Smallpox virus spreads very easily, and is viewed as a constant threat by the US anti-terror agencies. To date we have supplied research and test doses to the USA worth almost USD 170 million. We have ourselves invested in building production facilities to handle the next order, which will be for many million doses of vaccine. The US health authorities have so far pledged to buy 20 million doses with the option of a further 60 million. We are confident that the actual order will come this year.”

Strengthening immune defences
Bavarian Nordic’s smallpox vaccine utilises its MVA-BN® gene technology to generally strengthen the immune system and build up resistance. The vaccine is protected by around 400 patents.

“The technology has made it possible to produce a vaccine, which elicits an immune response in 3-4 days, whereas conventional vaccines take 10-14 days,” says Rolf Sass Sørensen. “Furthermore, there are no side effects and everyone, including vulnerable groups, can be vaccinated. The unique feature of the technology is that it represents completely new thinking about vaccines. It has both a preventative and a therapeutic mode of action, which has relevance for many other diseases including cancer, HIV and measles. We are also developing a product to strengthen the general immune defences, which if successful could become a universal vaccine.”

Vice President Rolf Sass Sørensen, Bavarian Nordic


This page forms part of the publication 'FOCUS Denmark' as chapter 7 of 23
Version 1. 22-05-2007
Publication may be found at the address


  © |