Altravax pulls in $1.2M from NIH

NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has its eye on Altravax, awarding the company $1.2 million to advance a dengue vaccine and hepatitis B therapeutic. This comes after the institute gave the biotech $3.45 million in December for research on HIV-1 vaccines that induce antibody protection.

Altravax plans to use its MolecularBreeding directed evolution technology to create a vaccine that protects against all strains of the dengue virus. The singular molecular vaccine builds from candidates that completed preclinical evaluations. Should Altravax succeed in developing a vaccine, it enters a valuable market: As many as 100 million people are infected with dengue a year, mostly in the tropics and subtropics.

No dengue vaccine exists, though that's not for lack of trying. Sanofi's ($SNY) dengue vaccine flopped in a Phase IIb trial in Thailand last year. The vaccine had only about 30% overall efficacy against dengue fever type 2, far short of the more than 70% efficacy the company banked on.

A hepatitis B therapeutic shows solid market potential, too. Chronic hepatitis B infections in the United States alone may be as high as 2.2 million. A vaccine could offer a long-term solution in lieu of sustained use of existing medications.

"The award of these two Small Business Innovation Research grants validates the importance of our efforts," said Dr. Robert Whalen, chief scientific officer at Altravax. "We are very grateful for the NIH's support of our research and development of these two important problems in infectious diseases."

Altravax acquired the MolecularBreeding technology and therapeutic hepatitis B vaccine platform from Maxygen ($MAXY) in January 2010. Rights to the dengue vaccine program came later, in April 2011.

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