2004 Winner: Industrial Research
Virexx Medical Corp. has developed a novel technology, Chimigen™ platform, for application in vaccines to treat chronic infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C. In a healthy person, foreign antigens – such as those found on a virus – normally trigger a two-pronged immune response. Antibodies are released into the blood and bind to antigens on the virus surface, marking it for destruction; and killer t-cells are deployed to directly eliminate cells carrying the infectious agent. When an antigen doesn’t produce either or both of these responses, the person will develop a tolerance to the infectious agent and become a chronic carrier of the disease.
Virexx’s patented Chimigen™ technology uses genetically engineered recombinant molecules that direct both arms of the immune system to attack the infection. Virexx has used the technology to develop Hepavaxx B, a vaccine for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B viral (HBV) infections. Pre-clinical trials have established proof of principle, and phase I clinical trials are scheduled for early 2005. HBV infection affects an estimated 370 million people globally, putting them at high risk of liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and, in up to 25 per cent of cases, death.
Vaccines are available to prevent the disease, but they are not effective in treating chronic infections. The world market for an effective therapeutic vaccine against chronic HBV infection is estimated to exceed $1 billion (US). Virexx has also designed several Chimigen™ vaccines for hepatitis C virus (HCV) and is currently in the R&D stage for two of the candidates. HCV is transmitted through blood and body fluids and can produce infection causing hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer. An estimated 170 million people are chronically infected with HCV – more than four times as many as are infected with HIV. HCV is the number one reason for liver transplants and is expected to become a major burden on the health care system. There is no vaccine available that will prevent or cure HCV. Virexx plans to use the NRC/ASTech prize to hire a final year undergraduate or a recent graduate in biological sciences to work on developing a novel HCV vaccine using Chimigen™ platform and the protein HCV NS3, believed to be necessary in establishing HCV infections. This vaccine will be compared with the two other vaccines being developed and the best candidate will be selected for further development.