Early-stage vaccine developer Inviragen last week said that it has been awarded a two-year, $600,000 Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the National Institutes of Health to support its collaboration with the University of Wisconsin to develop a vaccine for avian influenza.
Inviragen, based in Fort Collins, Colo., has also recently hired employees to work with UW researchers in Madison, and said it plans to open a full office in town next year to further facilitate the alliance, according to Inviragen CEO Dan Stinchcomb.
Under the grant, Inviragen will work with the laboratory of Jorge Osorio, an assistant professor in the department of pathobiological sciences at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. Osorio is also Inviragen’s CSO.
Together, the laboratories will design and test vaccines to protect against the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus. Stinchcomb is the principal investigator on the grant, which is being administered through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Stinchcomb told BTW that the research would be more or less evenly split between Inviragen’s labs in Fort Collins and Osorio’s labs at UW. Inviragen’s labs will construct the vaccine while the UW team will test how various animal models respond to it.
The technology at the heart of the collaboration is a second-generation vaccinia Ankara vector that Stinchcomb and Osorio began developing while employed together at veterinary medical company Heska Corporation.
Modified vaccinia Ankara, or MVA, is a vector that has been widely used in various vaccine preparations. Stinchcomb and Osorio founded Inviragen in 2003 and began experimenting with expressing various antigens in their second-generation MVA; Osorio subsequently joined the faculty at UW-Madison and began working with notable influenza researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka.
“We saw that a natural application of these second-generation vectors was to explore their feasibility as avian influenza vaccines,” Stinchcomb said.
Stinchcomb said that Inviragen and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation signed an agreement that outlines IP ownership. Stinchcomb declined to elaborate, saying it is too early to tell exactly what type of IP might be developed.
“As opposed to licensing technology directly from WARF, it’s a combination of technologies from Inviragen and the university, and of course a combination of expertise: ours in vector design and construction, and theirs in biological testing of avian influenza vaccines.”
“Since this is so early-stage, we don’t have specific terms yet to the IP licensing agreements because the IP will be evolving with the project,” Stinchcomb said.
“In this case it is an unusual collaboration for WARF in the sense that Inviragen has the basic vector technology, and UW has the avian influenza technology,” he added. “As opposed to licensing technology directly from WARF, it’s a combination of technologies from Inviragen and the university, and of course a combination of expertise: ours in vector design and construction, and theirs in biological testing of avian influenza vaccines.”
Neither Inviragen nor WARF have yet filed for patents on the vaccine technology, but Stinchcomb said that the company expects to do so in the near future. Representatives from WARF were unavailable for comment.
Stinchcomb and Osorio are also using their MVA technology to develop a vaccine for dengue fever, a mosquito-borne RNA virus common in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
Last November, Inviragen won a $2.7 million grant from the NIH to further develop the technology with UW and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The company is also currently developing vaccines for West Nile virus and airborne Yersinia pestis, or the black plague, which has potential biodefense applications.
Inviragen currently has seven employees, including an unspecified number located in Madison. The company also plans to further strengthen its ties with UW by opening a full office in the Madison area in 2008, Stinchcomb said. Inviragen also maintains close ties with Colorado State University, also located in Fort Collins, where Stinchcomb serves as an adjunct professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.
Inviragen said it believes that its vaccine technologies can thrive in developing markets, and explained that it is collaborating “with developing world manufacturers” and will test the vaccines in underdeveloped nations, which will help defray costs.
Stinchcomb said the company is also “in discussions with various organizations” funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for potential funding.