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OHSU, partners Kineta, U of Washington, VGTI Florida awarded $10M NIH contract to develop new vaccine adjuvants

Oregon Health & Science University's Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute (OHSU) has been awarded a $10 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Kineta, Inc., the University of Washington Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease (CIIID), and the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida (VGTI Florida) will collaborate with OHSU as major sub-contractors to develop new vaccine adjuvants that could boost the effectiveness of a wide range of human vaccines for infectious diseases including West Nile Virus, Dengue and Japanese Encephalitis. The work will also provide novel applications for enhancing the immune response against Ebola virus, HIV, and other virus infections. Infectious diseases affect millions of people in developed and developing nations, many with no effective protective vaccines.

Vaccines are the first line of defense against infectious disease and have saved millions of lives over the years. However, some people with weakened immune systems and the elderly lose the ability to respond to vaccines. The effectiveness of vaccines can be improved by the addition of substances called adjuvants that not only enhance the body’s immune response to the vaccine but also decrease the dose of the vaccine, allowing the vaccine supply to be extended.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has approved only three vaccine adjuvants. This award is part of an NIH push to develop more adjuvants.

"Although vaccines are extremely effective at preventing disease, the elderly and infants, who are the most vulnerable part of our population, are not efficiently protected,” said Jay Nelson, Ph.D., professor and director of OHSU's VGTI, who will co-lead work on the NIH contract. "For example, while 80 percent of normal healthy adults are protected with the flu vaccine, more than 40 percent of people over 65 do not develop protective immunity. We have found that the addition of adjuvants to vaccines can better protect older animals from virus infection," Nelson added.

Nelson and other OHSU VGTI scientists will work with Shawn Iadonato, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer for Kineta, Inc., a biotechnology company in Seattle, on the development of new adjuvants using the company’s innate immune drug development platform.

“Kineta has significant experience in high through-put methods to identify chemical compounds that stimulate the immune system and that are safe and effective. Developing these new adjuvants could change the paradigm for generating lasting immunity to pathogens,” said Dr. Iadonato.

Michael Gale, Jr., Ph.D., Professor of Immunology and Director of the CIIID at the University of Washington, will co-lead this project with Nelson. “The identification of new adjuvants will also be important to make vaccines for other diseases such as Ebola virus, influenza A virus, HIV, bacterial infection, and cancer more effective," Gale said.

During the course of the contract, scientists will first screen tens of thousands of chemical molecules to identify those with properties that indicate they could become an effective adjuvant. Then, they will study how those molecules work and make structural changes to improve their ability to enhance the immune system without causing unwanted side effects.

Toward the end of the five-year contract, scientists are aiming to have two adjuvant candidates that can be added to vaccines and advanced into Investigational Drug Development enabling studies as a first step toward FDA approval.

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