City of Hope and Fortress Biotech Form DiaVax Biosciences to Develop New Vaccines

A new company has been formed to develop two novel vaccines against cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, a life-threatening illness in people with weakened or underdeveloped immune systems, such as cancer patients and developing fetuses.

City of Hope and Fortress Biotech have reached an agreement to form the new subsidiary company, called DiaVax Biosciences.  By using the immune system’s defensive power, the vaccines could open the door to a new way of treating this devastating infection that affects hundreds of thousands worldwide.

The vaccines, developed in the lab of Don J Diamond, PhD, chair of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at the City of Hope with NCI funding since 1997, are targeted at controlling CMV infections in people receiving stem cell and solid organ transplants. The vaccines will use specifically targeted immune system cells, known as CMV-specific T cells, to help prevent the body’s immune system from being overcome by CMV.

CMV affects more than half of the US population by the age of 40. While healthy adults usually have no symptoms, CMV can be fatal in people with weakened immune systems.

“We believe that these vaccines represent a turning point in the treatment of CMV infection and, as such, have the potential to become a model for the treatment of other opportunistic infections as well,” said Diamond, who will chair the Scientific Advisory Board of DiaVax. “The agreement with Fortress not only allows us to make these vaccines available to more people who need them, it also highlights the viability of this new type of vaccine therapy.”

The vaccines, Triplex and PepVax, will be evaluated in multi-site mid-stage clinical trials. The Phase II trial evaluating PepVax has already started enrolling patients and the Phase II Triplex trial will start enrolling patients this fall. They newly-formed company has entered into an option with City of Hope for exclusive worldwide rights to a universal immunotherapeutic vaccine, called Pentamer, which could prevent CMV transmission in utero, which leads to thousands of cases of irreversible brain damage every year.

City of Hope’s impact on the therapeutic vaccine field would grow exponentially if all three vaccines are fully developed and commercialized. The three vaccines have the potential to bring in more than $100 million for the institution and its efforts to transform the future of health for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases.

“We are pleased to enter into this collaboration with the City of Hope and Dr. Don Diamond,” said Lindsay A. Rosenwald, chairman and CEO of Fortress Biotech. “Current antiviral therapies used in this context are often toxic and merely suppress CMV during treatment. The vaccines we have licensed represent a promising new T-cell based, immunotherapeutic approach for controlling CMV in patients with weakened immune systems. An effective vaccine could educate the body’s immune system to fight CMV.”

Source: City of Hope

Last updated: 5/4/15; 12:20pm EST

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