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"So, while I appreciate there's some uncertainty here, I think we all need to be a little bit patient, allow us to work through this process with the U.S. government on both contracts," said Dan Abdun-Nabi, president and CEO of Emergent BioSolutions (EBS 6.20%). By "we," he meant the analysts pestering him about the lack of guidance for the second half of the year; he asked for patience at least twice more during the second-quarter earnings call.

Earnings releases are supposed to be a time to look back on the company's accomplishments in the previous quarter and for management to give investors its best guess as to what the future has in store. But sitting in limbo with the U.S. government, Emergent BioSolutions has no insight on sales of its anthrax vaccine, BioThrax.

And the $40 million in sales in the second quarter -- down 45% year over year -- aren't much of a guide, since the current contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ends at the end of September. The CDC has indicated that it doesn't plan to buy all of the remaining 4.2 million doses -- 122 million dollars' worth -- available for purchase under the current contract, but does plan to buy some BioThrax in the third quarter.

In the short term, it doesn't really matter how much the CDC buys under the old contract. The CDC has already announced that Emergent BioSolutions will be the sole source for anthrax vaccine for the government's reserve under the next contract. Emergent and the CDC just have to work out the cost and shipping schedule for the 29.4 million doses the government plans to buy over the next five years; that should be worked out by Sept. 23.

The bigger question comes from the CDC's desire for a next-generation anthrax vaccine that requires two doses or fewer. The government put out a request for proposals to which Emergent BioSolutions has already responded, proposing that the CDC support the development of its NuThrax vaccine. While there are no guarantees that NuThrax will be selected, Abdun-Nabi noted that "We are not aware of any other vaccine candidate that meets all of those minimum requirements."

Looking forward

Investors won't have to be patient for too long. As noted above, the government wants the new contract for BioThrax settled by Sept. 23. And the government has said it wants to pick a company to provide the next-generation anthrax vaccine in the August to September timeframe.

With the spinout of Aptevo Therapeutics, which closed last week, Emergent BioSolutions has become a pure-play biodefense company. And while BioThrax and (hopefully) NuThrax are a big part of the company's sales, it does have revenue from other government contracts and plans to further diversify through acquisitions. "We continue to target having a deal that we can announce in this year, in 2016," Abdun-Nabi said.