The Department of Defense announced eight defense contracts on Wednesday. Worth $198.4 million in total, the contracts ranged in value by a factor of 10 -- from as much as $80 million to as little as $7.7 million. Yet it was that very smallest of the eight contracts awarded yesterday that was the most interesting.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Pfizer (PFE 2.23%) a $7.7 million contract to research whether it might be possible to "identify and subsequently induce the production of protective antibodies to an emerging pathogen directly in an infected or exposed individual."

The traditional method of "curing" a disease -- from which DARPA is deviating -- involves extracting a pathogen, isolating its antigen, and using that antigen to create a vaccine in vitro. This vaccine is then injected into a patient to stimulate his or her immune system to fight off subsequent exposures to the pathogen. DARPA, however, appears to be tasking Pfizer with finding a shortcut, whereby all of this would happen in vivo, within the patient's body, thus dramatically cutting the time between the discovery of a pathogen and the military's ability to treat it. Incidentally, if Pfizer is successful in this work, its research could have significant applications in the civilian world as well.

Pfizer's DARPA contract will run through Dec. 8, 2016.