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Rhode Island Biotechnology Company Develops Tularemia Vaccine

EpiVax, Inc, a leader in genome-derived vaccines, announced today that it has developed a promising tularemia vaccine // candidate (TuliVaxTM) that confers protective immunity. Francisella tularensis is a bacterium considered to be one of the most dangerous potential bioterror agents.

This vaccine project was funded by a BioDefense Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The animal studies, conducted at Rhode Island Hospital, showed that TuliVaxTM protected mice from lethal bacterial challenge.

“Our unique ability to develop safe and effective vaccines by screening whole genomes for candidate vaccine components with computer algorithms is at the core of this research effort,” said Anne De Groot, M.D., President and CEO of EpiVax. “These study results highlight the ability of our computer-aided vaccine design (VaccineCAD) approach to create effective and innovative vaccines at an accelerated pace”.

Tularemia is rare but does occur naturally; the most lethal pulmonary form is more common in Martha’s Vineyard than in most other places in the world. EpiVax collaborated with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to obtain bloods from people with previous tularemia infection; 95% of the study participants demonstrated robust responses to the TuliVaxTM components.

Mice with “humanized” immune systems were used by Rhode Island Hospital collaborator Stephen Gregory PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital and Brown Medical School, to assess the ability of the vaccine to protect against a lethal dose of F. tularensis. Although all of the mice that received a placebo vaccine died when exposed to tularemia, the majority of the mice that received TuliVaxTM survived.

The development of a safe and effective tularemia vaccine has proven elusive; the live vaccine str ain (LVS) of tularensis was the major tularemia vaccine under study for many years. Although it conferred partial protection, federal funding to license LVS has been cancelled due to safety and manufacturing concerns1.

“There is an urgent need for a safe, effective tularemia vaccine to address both natural infections and potential biothreats. TuliVax is likely to be safe because it is composed of small synthetic parts, not the live bacterium”, says Dr. Gregory. “Preliminary results in mice are encouraging; additional experiments are required to provide the data needed for TuliVax to progress to human clinical trials.”



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