GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis received two contracts worth more than $118 million combined from the federal government on Wednesday to produce an immune system booster known as an adjuvant.

The plan is to use adjuvant to increase the effectiveness of influenza vaccines by stimulating the body’s immune system response.

The contracts are part of the government’s plan to prepare for a possible influenza pandemic.

GSK maintains one of its two U.S. headquarters in RTP, and Novartis is building a new vaccine production plant in Holly Springs.

In a statement, Novartis said some of the funds would be used to support design, equipment and validation of production of its adjuvant MF59 at the Holly Springs facility.

"Novartis is committed to the development and supply of vaccines to help protect against both seasonal influenza as well as the possible emergence of pandemic influenza,” said Jorg Reinhardt, chief executive officer of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics. “The use of our proprietary adjuvant MF59 with influenza vaccines has shown to be dose sparing and to provide additional immunogenicity against a broader range of potential pandemic influenza strains, while using lower amounts of viral antigen for the vaccine.”

The contracts from the Department of Health and Human Services calls for GSK to receive $63.3 million over five years and Novartis to get $54.8 million. A third firm, IOMAI Corporation, received a contract worth another $14.4 million with additional funding possible in the future based on clinical trial results.

"In the event of an influenza pandemic, a vaccine that uses adjuvant
could provide a way to extend a limited vaccine supply to more people," said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. "These contracts are a continuation of our aggressive multi- pronged approach to a potentially critical public health challenge."

The contracts provide funding for clinical testing of the adjuvant, which has been approved for use in Europe but not in the United States.

Tests of the H5N1, or avian flu, vaccine have shown that adjuvant could reduce the amount of active ingredient needed to treat victims of an influenza outbreak, HHS said.

Last year, Novartis and GSK received other HHS contracts to prepare for a possible pandemic. Novartis is using those funds to help underwrite the costs of the Holly Springs facility.