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IT firm takes shot at smallpox vaccine

Computer Sciences, a provider of information technology services, says a business it co-owns has made progress in developing a better smallpox vaccine.

Computer Sciences, a provider of information technology services, said Thursday that a business it co-owns has made progress in a quest largely removed from the world of computer hardware and software: developing a better smallpox vaccine.

The El Segundo, Calif.-based company said its joint-venture partnership DynPort Vaccine, achieved hopeful results in a preliminary trial of a cell-cultured smallpox vaccine. DynPort is 51 percent owned by Computer Sciences and 49 percent owned by Porton International, a vaccine development company.

The cell-cultured smallpox vaccine is produced using human lung cells, in contrast to the current smallpox vaccine, Dryvax, which is made with calf lymph and has raised safety concerns.

Computer Sciences said that in the study of 350 volunteers, the incidence of side effects, including fatigue, increased temperature and nausea, was at least 8 percent lower for volunteers receiving the cell-cultured smallpox vaccine than for those receiving Dryvax.

"It's encouraging," said Robert Hopkins, DynPort's vice president for clinical research. "But as with any phase one trial, (the results) need to be confirmed with larger studies."

Hopkins said the experimental vaccine could be available for use in 2005.

Whether the current smallpox vaccine is safe has become a topic of discussion recently, following the deaths of two people who received it. In December, President Bush introduced a plan to vaccinate health care workers and certain military and civilian personnel in the Department of Defense. Bush said the plan was a response to the threat of a smallpox attack by terrorist groups or hostile governments.

DynPort's smallpox effort is part of the unit's broader mission to develop and license "biodefense" vaccines for the Defense Department. Although the cell-cultured smallpox vaccine is initially targeted for the armed forces, it could be used for civilians too, Hopkins suggested.

Computer Sciences came to possess part of the DynPort pharmaceutical venture through its acquisition of DynCorp earlier this year. DynCorp has focused on serving the federal government in various ways, and its divisions include a medical management services unit and a commercial satellite-launching subsidiary.