NIH-backed West Nile candidate enters PhI trials at Duke

Despite years of efforts from academia and the industry, including Merck ($MRK), no FDA-approved West Nile virus vaccine exists. Scientists from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) are looking to change that.

A group of researchers recently announced that their candidate--discovered and developed thanks to a $7.5 million grant from NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)--had entered an NIH-sponsored Phase I trial at Duke University.

The vaccine was developed using the peroxide-based platform HydroVax, being commercialized by the Oregon-based OHSU spinoff Najit Technologies. It's the first vaccine production system to demonstrate that hydrogen peroxide can inactivate viruses while still maintaining key immunogenic structures, according to the researchers.

Najit CSO Mark Slifka

"We believe our vaccine approach will not only be safe and effective for West Nile virus, but it could also provide significant protection against other important human pathogens, including yellow fever, dengue hemorrhagic fever, and, potentially even Ebola," Mark Slifka, OHSU professor of molecular microbiology and immunology and president and CSO of Najit, said in a statement.

West Nile virus has spread throughout North America in recent years--with an estimated 3 million cases reported in the United States since 1999--and the OHSU scientists aren't the only ones working on a vaccine. Hawaii Biotech completed a Phase I trial of its jab in the nonendemic state in 2009 and plans to resume Phase I/II testing in an endemic location, possibly on the U.S. mainland, prior to the 2016 West Nile virus season, CEO Elliot Parks told FierceVaccines.

"Our long-term strategy is to partner with a multinational vaccine company that has the reach to address West Nile virus wherever it is in the world," Parks added.

In 2012, the University of Oklahoma advanced its vaccine in an attempt to combat an outbreak, while Duke University reported last year that its nasal West Nile virus vaccine candidate was effective in mice after two doses as opposed to the usual three.

- here's the release