Friday, September 12, 2008
CHARLES R. McCAULEY
News staff writer
Birmingham’s Vaxin Inc. has received nearly $1 million from the National Institutes of Health to proceed with experiments on the biotechnology company’s bird flu vaccine.
The $995,000 grant from NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research program will be used to expedite development of a poultry vaccine to prevent the spread of avian influenza to people, Chief Executive Bill Enright said Thursday. Vaxin’s plan calls for chickens to be vaccinated while still in their eggs.
“If you can vaccinate the chicken, you’re eliminating the resevoir, then there is less (disease) likely to be spread into the human population,” he said
Enright, who joined Vaxin in June, said the company was informed last week of the financing to accelerate vaccine development. It results from milestones the company met under a $100,000 grant to study the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine on poultry.
Most important among that study’s findings was showing that chickens can be vaccinated by human adenovirus-vectored, or cold-causing, viruses that do not reproduce in chickens, said De-chu C. Tang, who developed the technology that led to the company’s founding in 1997. He said Vaxin’s approach is the only in ovo – meaning “in the egg” – vaccine that has been developed.
Tests were conducted on chickens at Auburn University. Vaxin’s vaccines are genetically engineered, using human cell cultures to make doses faster and with less contamination than using chicken eggs under the traditional method.
“There are two separate vaccines – one is for chickens and one is for humans,” Enright said.
The human treatment under study is a non-invasive, or needle-free, single-dose administered through patients’ noses using technology developed by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The poultry vaccine is put into the birds while still in their eggs, while most flu treatments are applied to already hatched chickens, Enright said. Vaxin’s approach has big advantages, he believes.
“If you can vaccinate in the egg, then you can automate that process,” he said. With machines that can vaccinate 70,000 to 80,000 eggs an hour, he added, “you take a considerable amount of time and labor out of the vaccination process.”
Vaxin has collaborated on the chicken vaccine with AU avian diseases professor Haroldo Toro, who has conducted the bulk of the tests on chickens, Enright said. Some of the efficacy testing has been done by David Suarez with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southeastern Poultry Lab in Athens, Ga., he said.
While Tang and Suarez are developing the poultry vaccine, “the humane vaccine is being separately developed and we are in the process of getting ready for human clinical trials,” Enright said.
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