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Virogenomics and OHSU Awarded Federal Research Grant

   Portland, Ore.

Grant will fund study of human genes as anti-HIV drug targets

A federal research grant to study human genes as possible drug targets for fighting HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection has been awarded jointly to Virogenomics Inc., a Portland-based drug discovery company, and scientists at Oregon Health & Science University.

"While modern antiretroviral drugs have enabled many HIV-positive individuals to live longer and delay progression of the disease to AIDS, these drugs do not ultimately cure infection," said Ashlee Moses, Ph.D., the study's principal investigator and assistant scientist at OHSU's Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute (VGTI). "Unlike research before it that has focused on HIV genes, this study focuses on human genes as drug targets. We believe that our strategy of disrupting key cellular interactions that facilitate HIV infection has the potential to develop safer and more effective drugs."

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases awarded the phase I grant under the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program. The grant provides $99,808 to continue Virogenomics-sponsored research conducted by OHSU scientists.

The project's ultimate goal is to develop new classes of drugs to combat HIV infection. The grant will be used to identify cellular drug targets through gene expression profiling. The targets will be validated through target-specific gene silencing techniques developed by Virogenomics and OHSU scientists. When phase I is complete, a multi-year phase II grant to fund more advanced research will be sought.

STTR is a congressionally mandated program intended to support cooperative research and development projects between small businesses and research institutions. STTR grants are structured in two phases: phase I grants show feasibility, and phase II grants develop a product or service.

"STTR funding is unique because it is only available for projects involving both small businesses and research institutions and because the phase I period of study encourages innovative research proposals," Moses said. "It is the partnership between OHSU and Virogenomics that made this cutting-edge study possible. One could not have received it without the other."

Virogenomics, an OHSU spinoff, was founded in 2001, as a genomics-enabled drug discovery company developing two innovative platforms. The autoimmune platform is based on a proprietary class of compounds that can be tailored to specifically target a wide range of autoimmune diseases. The drug discovery platform uses a unique virus-induced process to identify patterns of gene expression for a given disease, and to study those patterns as a means of discovering novel gene targets and compounds directed against those targets.

Under the license agreement, OHSU is a shareholder of Virogenomics. The university also receives funding from Virogenomics to support the research, and is entitled to royalties and a share of sublicense fees on any products commercialized by Virogenomics as a result of these technologies.

OHSU's newest research facility, VGTI researches viruses and other infectious agents, creating new vaccines and treatments for the elimination of human disease.

Ashlee Moses, Ph.D., is an assistant scientist in OHSU's Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute (VGTI), and an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the OHSU School of Medicine.

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