City of Hope, Fortress Biotech form new company to ward off CMV

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) presents no symptoms in most healthy people, but it can be life-threatening in people with weakened or underdeveloped immune systems. So City of Hope and Fortress Biotech have joined the race to produce vaccines to control CMV infections.

The companies announced on Monday that they had signed an agreement to form a new subsidiary company, DiaVax Biosciences, which will develop new vaccines to fend off CMV infection in people who have received stem cell or solid organ transplants. 

Since 1997, the vaccines have been developed in the lab of Don Diamond, chair of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at City of Hope, with funding from the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI), City of Hope said in a statement. The Los Angeles-area independent research center is an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center. 

"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," Diamond said in a statement. "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 work by using CMV-specific T cells, preventing the immune system from being overcome by CMV. Researchers have completed enrollment for a Phase II trial of one vaccine, PepVax, while they'll begin enrollment in the fall for the other, Triplex. And the new company, DiaVax, has entered into an option with City of Hope for exclusive worldwide rights to Pentamer, a universal immunotherapeutic vaccine that could guard against transmission of CMV from mother to fetus.

There is currently no vaccine for CMV, though there are some contenders in the CMV race. VBI Vaccines is working on a candidate, and Pfizer ($PFE) bought Switzerland-based Redvax in January to get its hands on the latter's CMV candidate. In July 2014, Redbiotec joined forces with GE Healthcare ($GE) to collaborate on CMV vaccines.

"Current antiviral therapies used in this context are often toxic and merely suppress CMV during treatment," Lindsay Rosenwald, CEO of Fortress Biotech, said in the statement. "The vaccines we have licensed represent a promising new T-cell-based, immunotherapeutic approach for controlling CMV in patients with weakened immune systems."

- here's the release