PaxVax joins Chikungunya vaccine quest with NIH licensing deal

Add PaxVax to the list of companies vying to roll out the first Chikungunya vaccine. The California biotech has licensed a clinical-stage candidate from the National Institutes of Health and aims to take that prospect to market.

PaxVax licensed the phase 2 virus-like particle vaccine candidate, taking on the job of conducting more clinical trials, developing release assays and commercial manufacturing processes, and, eventually, launching the product, CEO Nima Farzan said in an interview.

"We will start with a phase 2b study in 2017 and, pending success, will move the vaccine to phase 3," Farzan said via email.

Beginning in 2018, the biotech also plans to work with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to develop and test an adjuvant, Farzan said.

Farzan said there's a "very high" potential for a Chikungunya shot as a travel vaccine because of the virus' "wide geographic dispersion" and an increase in global travel.

Results from a phase 2 trial—in 400 adults at six sites in the Caribbean—are expected in the first quarter of this year. NIH sent the candidate into phase 2 in late 2015 after positive phase 1 results showed all 25 participants developed strong immune responses.

No vaccine currently exists against the mosquito-borne disease. A U.S. Army candidate proved viable in phase 2 back in 2000, but work on it was ultimately suspended because of a lack of interest and funding.

Another company working toward a Chikungunya vaccine is Austrian biotech Themis, currently in phase 2 testing for its candidate. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research also has a Chikungunya program of its own. And NIH is not putting all its eggs in one basket; it funded Hawaii Biotech to work in the field in collaboration with the Baylor College of Medicine and the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

Redwood City, California-based PaxVax, which specializes in infectious disease vaccines, markets the cholera vaccine Vaxchora and a typhoid fever vaccine, Vivotif, it acquired from Johnson & Johnson's Crucell. PaxVax is also redeveloping a hepatitis A vaccine previously licensed as Epaxal. Besides the new Chikungunya deal, PaxVax has several other candidates either in preclinical or various clinical stages to fight HIV, anthrax, adenovirus and Zika.

PaxVax landed a $105 million capital injection in late 2015 from Cerberus Capital Management.