Altravax, a privately held biopharmaceutical company based in Fargo, N.D., has been awarded two Advanced Technology Small Business Innovation Research grants from the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for research on vaccines to prevent infection by dengue virus and to treat chronic hepatitis B. Each of these viruses is a global problem and the focus of Altravax's two lead commercial programs.
"These awards further validate the strength of our vaccine technology," said Michael Chambers, interim CEO of Altravax. Chambers noted Altravax has received over $4.5 million in non-dilutive funding in recent months, which will be instrumental in bringing these critical products closer to market.
Infection by dengue virus is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics where more than one-third of the world's population is at risk. Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a potentially lethal complication of infection that affects mainly children. Although dengue is rare in the continental U.S., it is endemic in Puerto Rico, and in many popular tourist destinations in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Altravax will use its MolecularBreeding directed evolution technology to create vaccines that provide broad protection against all strains of the dengue virus.
Recent estimates suggest that the prevalence of chronic hepatitis B in the U.S. alone may be as high as 2.2 million. Although treatment options are available, a new vaccine offers the potential of a long-lasting solution in comparison to the sustained use of existing medications. Altravax has created novel vaccine candidates with its MolecularBreeding technology that are more potent than those used in previous studies. The current NIH funding will support additional testing of these candidates in preparation for clinical evaluation.
"The award of these two Small Business Innovation Research grants validates the importance of our efforts," said Dr. Robert Whalen, CSO of Altravax. "We are very grateful for the NIH's support of our research and development of these two important problems in infectious diseases."
In January 2010, Altravax acquired from Maxygen exclusive rights to the MolecularBreeding technology platform for the development of vaccines to infectious diseases, along with the therapeutic hepatitis B vaccine platform. Altravax subsequently acquired the rights to the dengue vaccine program in April 2011.