Novavax and its biotech peers readily admit that proving the efficacy of their vaccines, let alone their superiority to the current treatments, remains a long way off. But that hasn't stopped them from trumpeting the business potential of their unique manufacturing processes, which they contend are a faster and cheaper way to produce vaccines than the traditional methods.

Should a killer global flu pandemic develop and create a vaccine shortage, many of these firms have argued at one time or another, the FDA could step in and fast-track the approval and commercialization of one of their programs.

There's also been a lot of talk about serving the developing world, which will almost assuredly not have enough doses to go around, starting now. (Witness the World Health Organization's appeal to rich countries and the big vaccine producers to donate doses to poor countries.)

But as many industry experts have observed, a small biotech would hardly have the capability of ramping up production to the scale necessary for making the needed number of doses -- presumably, in the millions.

And even if it could, any boon might well be temporary. Once a pandemic inevitably subsides, the big pharma companies would almost certainly re-assume their normal role as vaccine providers to the globe -- business as usual.

Furthermore, far from ignoring the cutting-edge technologies constantly ballyhooed by the small biotechs, the major vaccine players are hotly pursuing these areas as well, especially cell-culture vaccines.

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