Speeding up the Fight Against Ebola, Other Diseases

For vaccines and treatments aimed at vanquishing infectious diseases, it’s a long, bumpy road from the laboratory to the doctor’s office, a journey that can take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars — if it happens at all. Now, academic researchers, biotechnology specialists, and pharmaceutical leaders in Boston and elsewhere are offering tantalizing evidence that vaccines against Ebola and other killer diseases can be made faster and cheaper than previously believed. In a study accepted for publication in the journal Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, a Boston research consortium, called VaxCelerate, details how it produced a vaccine ready for animal testing against lassa fever, a hemorrhagic disease similar to Ebola, for less than $1 million and in four months.
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Will Inovio’s Deal With Roche Lead To A Cancer Blockbuster?

Roche and Inovio had announced they would develop INO-5150, a vaccine for prostate cancer, back on September 10, 2013. The agreement, giving Roche exclusive rights, allowed for milestone payments of up to $412.5 million, including the initial payment of $10 million. "In addition, Inovio is entitled to receive up to double-digit tiered royalties on product sales." INO-5150 has only been tested so far in animal studies. It targets two antigens associated with prostate cancer, PSMA (prostate-specific membrane antigen) and PSA (prostate-specific antigen). The animal studies showed the vaccine invoked "strong and robust T-cell immune responses."
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Madison Vaccines Rides Immunotherapy Wave With Early-Stage Prostate Drug

Madison Vaccines (MVI) is working to develop a new treatment option for early-stage prostate cancer patients—after their prostates have been removed, but before the cancer has spread to the bones or other organs. The idea is to prevent, or at least delay, the onset of metastases and the need for castration by priming the immune system to recognize cancerous cells and kill them. Building on research from the lab of Douglas McNeel, an oncologist and professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, MVI is creating vaccines from tiny circular bits of DNA called plasmids. The company’s lead DNA vaccine, MVI-816, contains instructions for a protein named prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP), which is made by prostate cells. When injected into the skin, the DNA is taken up by the body’s cells (the company is still researching exactly which types of cells do the absorbing), which use the DNA to make copies of the PAP protein. That protein, in turn, acts as an antigen to stimulate an immune response against PAP, the company has shown in Phase I trials.
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First Gene Therapy Trial Launched for Heart Patients with Mechanical Pumps

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For the first time in the world, a patient with a mechanical heart pump is taking part in a new gene therapy trial for heart failure. This is the start of a new clinical trial that will assess gene therapy for patients with heart pumps and provide detailed insight on its impact on the heart muscle. Heart failure occurs when the heart no longer pumps blood effectively and it affects hundreds of thousands of people in the UK. Some individuals with an advanced heart failure can be fitted with a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), which supports the failing heart and aims to restore normal blood flow. The LVAD is an electrically driven pump, moving the blood from the left ventricle into the main artery (aorta) so it can circulate the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Individuals with advanced heart failure who require a transplant may be fitted with an LVAD to keep them alive until a suitable donor heart becomes available. Currently there are around 100 to 150 people in the UK living with an LVAD.
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Immunotherapy Targets Breast Cancer

A new technique aimed at harnessing the body's immune system to attack one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer is being developed by British scientists. The team led by Dr John Maher at King's College London is working on an immunotherapy treatment that specifically attacks HER2-positive tumours. Breast cancer cells that over-produce the HER2 protein are especially aggressive and hard to treat. They account for one in five of the 50,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year in the UK. The new research is supported by a grant worth around £100,000 from the charity Breast Cancer Campaign.
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Potential ‘Universal’ Blood Test for Cancer Discovered

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Researchers from the University of Bradford have devised a simple blood test that can be used to diagnose whether people have cancer or not. The test will enable doctors to rule out cancer in patients presenting with certain symptoms, saving time and preventing costly and unnecessary invasive procedures such as colonoscopies and biopsies being carried out. Alternatively, it could be a useful aid for investigating patients who are suspected of having a cancer that is currently hard to diagnose. Early results have shown the method gives a high degree of accuracy diagnosing cancer and pre-cancerous conditions from the blood of patients with melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer. The research is published online in FASEB Journal, the US journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
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What You Need To Know About Ebola

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(Picture Credit: NIAID)

Liberia went into quarantine yesterday amid the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola, one of the most deadly diseases known to man. The West African country sealed its borders except for its main airport and a few major overland crossings, where travellers are being screened for symptoms of the disease. The move follows similar closures in neighboring Guinea, where the outbreak began, and Sierra Leone. Together the three countries have recorded 672 deaths from Ebola, according to the World Health Organisation. The disease is 90 percent fatal once caught, making it the second most lethal human infection after rabies.
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Clinical Trial of Herpes Vaccine Now Enrolling Patients

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Creating a successful vaccine against two members of the family, the sexually transmitted herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and 2 (HSV-2), has proven to be challenging. A clinical trial being conducted by a branch of the National Institutes of Health, now enrolling patients, is based on an HSV-2 vaccine developed by David Knipe, Higgins Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical School.

Meanwhile, Knipe and his colleagues are continuing to fight these viruses on another front. Seizing an approach used against HIV, they are studying possible treatments that could also combat herpes virus infections.
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Celladon Licenses mSCF For Gene Therapy

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Clinical stage biotech firm Celladon Corporation announced that it has signed an exclusive, global license from Enterprise Partners Venture Capital for the membrane-bound form of the Stem Cell Factor gene (mSCF) as treatment for cardiac ischemia. The license agreement will allow Celladon to use mSCF in gene therapy applications.

Stem Cell Factor is an important cytokine which plays a role in cell migration and survival as well as survival of cardiac stem cells. Scientists from the Cardiovascular Research Center at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have successfully used mSCF gene therapy to undo heart damage in animal models after myocardial infarction. According to the study’s senior investigator Roger J. Hajjar, Director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, “mSCF gene therapy promoted a regenerative response in damaged hearts similar to that observed with stem cell therapy and may be one of the first non-cell therapies to increase cardiac muscle precursors in the heart.” The findings were published in Circulation Research.
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Vaccine for Dust-Mite Allergies Created

Researchers at the University of Iowa have developed a vaccine that can combat dust-mite allergies by naturally switching the body's immune response. In animal tests, the nano-sized vaccine package lowered lung inflammation by 83 percent despite repeated exposure to the allergens, according to the paper, published in the AAPS (American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists) Journal. One big reason why it works, the researchers contend, is because the vaccine package contains a booster that alters the body's inflammatory response to dust-mite allergens.
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