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UTSA, Health Science Center collaborate with Merck & Co. to develop chlamydia vaccine

San Antonio TX -- The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (Health Science Center) today announced an exclusive license and sponsored research agreement with Merck & Co., Inc., to develop a vaccine for chlamydia, targeting the common sexually transmitted bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.

Under the terms of the agreement with the two University of Texas institutions, Merck will provide funding for research to UTSA and the Health Science Center, whose collaborative team of researchers was the first to demonstrate that, in animal models of genital chlamydial infection, a vaccine composed of a select group of recombinant C. trachomatis antigens can successfully accelerate bacterial clearance, and importantly, preserve female reproductive function. Scientists from Merck and UT will collaborate closely in research directed toward development of an effective chlamydia vaccine.

The Merck license is the first revenue-producing license for any technology developed at UTSA. Upon execution of the license, Merck paid the university an upfront fee, and reimbursed UT for past patent expenses. Going forward, the license is structured to provide payments to the university as vaccine candidates advance through development and are commercialized. Specific financial details were not disclosed. The license is also noteworthy because it is the first exclusive license negotiated and executed by South Texas Technology Management (STTM) for technology shared by two of the four University of Texas System institutions the office serves.

"Inter-institutional partnerships lend themselves to generating interdisciplinary solutions, which in this case is an unmet medical need," said Kenneth Porter, UTSA/Health Science Center assistant vice president for technology transfer and director of STTM. "STTM occupies a unique position among UT institutions and can facilitate the activities of such partnerships, especially with respect to providing public access to academic discoveries."

"Research collaboration between UT institutions and private industry is not only advantageous to improving public health, it is imperative," UTSA President Ricardo Romo said. "This agreement demonstrates our commitment to build UTSA into a Top 100 research university and the next great Texas university."

Said Brian Herman, the Health Science Center's vice president for research: "The Health Science Center strives not only to make discoveries that improve the quality of life but also to make sure these breakthroughs are rapidly disseminated through the commercialization process so they can help as many people as possible. We welcome this opportunity to further advance our already successful relationship with UTSA, and we believe that people, especially those of South Texas, will benefit substantially from this partnership."

"External scientific collaborations such as this are an essential and integral aspect of our research strategy," said John Shiver, vice president and infectious disease franchise head of worldwide basic research, Merck Research Laboratories. "We look forward to working closely to translate the promising early results of the UT team into an investigational candidate that together we can then advance toward the clinic."

"This is an exciting development in the fight against infectious diseases, highlighting the outstanding research in microbiology and immunology occurring at UTSA and the Health Science Center, and it demonstrates the power of these two sister institutions working together to improve human health," said Karl Klose, director of UTSA's South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) and professor of microbiology in UTSA's Department of Biology.

Chlamydia trachomatis is responsible for nearly 2.3 million cases of infection in the U.S. population, primarily in those between the ages 14 to 39, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. A highly infectious and insidious organism, C. trachomatis frequently causes only mild or moderate symptoms in infected individuals, especially females, and those infected often do not receive diagnosis or effective treatment, because they are not aware they have the infection.

Long-term C. trachomatis infection in females can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, serious complications for newborn infants and infertility. Macrolide (erythromycin-like) antibiotics can successfully eradicate the pathogen in most patients, but treated individuals are highly susceptible to re-infection if exposed via unprotected sex with an infected partner. Consequently, chlamydia remains present and stable in a high percentage of sexually active individuals.

The trio of UT researchers involved in this collaboration include Guangming Zhong, M.D., Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology from the Health Science Center, Bernard Arulanandam, Ph.D., M.B.A., professor of microbiology and immunology in UTSA's STCEID and Department of Biology, and Ashlesh Murthy, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in UTSA's STCEID and Department of Biology. Zhong has conducted research for more than 20 years in chlamydia pathogenesis and vaccine development, while Arulanandam has researched vaccine development and mucosal immunity for more than 12 years.

Both Zhong's and Arulanandam's laboratories are working hard with the Merck group to identify the most efficacious vaccine antigens for inducing anti-chlamydial immunity. They are also planning to apply their vaccine research expertise and capabilities to other diseases by collaborating with other UT faculty members.

"Through many years of research in chlamydial biology, pathogenesis and immunology, we have accumulated sufficient expertise to take chlamydia vaccine research to a new level," Zhong said.

"Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterium, and the number of cases is on the rise," Arulanandam said. "While many researchers have tried to develop a chlamydia vaccine, none has been successful. We hope to change that."


Contact: Christi Fish
University of Texas at San Antonio

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