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NIH teams with industry


Pharmaceutical Representative

A new initiative launched by the National Institutes of Health encourages private-sector involvement in attacking several of the world's most deadly infectious diseases.

A new initiative launched by the National Institutes of Health encourages private-sector involvement in attacking several of the world's most deadly infectious diseases. Through its new Challenge Grants program, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the NIH, will provide matching funds to companies who will commit their own dollars and resources toward developing new drugs and vaccines against malaria, tuberculosis, influenza and dengue virus.

"Infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and influenza continue to take a devastating toll on people throughout the world," said Anthony S. Fauci, NIAID director. "Forging partnerships with industry is an important part of NIAID's commitment to research on new ways to prevent and treat these diseases, and to move discoveries quickly from the laboratory to the clinic."

The Challenge Grants are milestone-driven awards, meaning recipients must achieve predetermined product goals during the development process. Progress will be assessed at each milestone, and decisions will be made on continuing project funding. Each award will be matched with equal dollars from the recipient company, and the combined contributions will be used to support three-year projects.

The grants

A $7 million grant to SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, Philadelphia, will help the company develop a pediatric indication for tafenoquine, a promising new drug already under investigation for preventing malaria in adults. This research will be a collaboration with the U.S. military, and also will investigate the ability of tafenoquine to block transmission of the malaria parasite, preventing it from passing from person to person.

Pfizer Inc., New York, will team with another group of military researchers to study azithromycin for treating malaria.

With the aid of a $1.2 million grant, Sequella, Rockville, MD, will direct research on a new generation of antibiotics to battle tuberculosis. The Sequella team has identified 300 candidate compounds by screening chemical variants of ethambutol, one of the four first-line drugs recommended for treatment of tuberculosis.

Researchers from SmithKline Beecham will use a $1.2 million grant to investigate another class of tuberculosis drugs by modifying thiolactomycin, a compound that blocks an important metabolic process in certain bacteria and parasites. Through a $2.3 million award, Corixa Corp. in Seattle will direct preclinical and clinical testing of new candidate tuberculosis vaccines produced using M. tuberculosis proteins.

In order to develop a better vaccine for use against future flu pandemics, Aviron, Mountain View, CA, has been awarded $2.7 million to develop a weakened live influenza virus vaccine and to evaluate new mechanisms of production, and will attempt to develop a vaccine that will be given as a nasal mist instead of a shot, making it a promising option for widespread distribution and use.

By matching a $1.4 million grant from NIAID, Aventis Pasteur, Swiftwater, PA, will develop a technology that allows the rapid engineering and production of specific influenza viruses by using a new DNA-based system to produce influenza vaccine candidates.

Current influenza vaccines are grown in chicken eggs, which may be in short supply during a pandemic. Therefore, alternatives must be developed to protect the world's population. Novavax, Rockville, MD, has been awarded $850,000 to produce several non-egg-grown influenza vaccines.

A $1.8 million grant to OraVax, Cambridge, MA, will help develop a vaccine against dengue viruses by using a proven yellow fever vaccine as the backbone for the new vaccines. By replacing a yellow fever gene with genes from the four dengue serotype viruses, the researchers will produce chimeric candidate vaccines ready for initial clinical trials. PR

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