The Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) was founded 9 years ago with the singular goal of accelerating the development of novel broadly applicable, safe and cost-effective vaccines and immunotherapies for infectious diseases, cancer, and type 1 diabetes. To date, the team of outstanding scientists and project managers at VIC working with an extensive network of scientific and medical product development experts within and outside of the USA, have developed 7 new medical products and partnered the development of 5 of these products with biotech companies and US Government agencies. Our team has negotiated 4 licensing agreements for our technologies and has successfully raised grant, contract and philanthropic support for this effort. Four of these technologies now stand ready for first in human clinical trials.
VaxCelerate is an excellent example of a project executed by VIC and funded by the Department of Defense. The core technology uses a novel immune construct developed in the VIC laboratory, which can be rapidly developed and applied as a vaccine for infectious diseases including influenza, Lassa fever and Q fever. Four years ago, with support from the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency (DARPA) and collaborators in industry and academia, two pilot projects (VaxCelerate I and II) demonstrated the ability to generate and test a new type of vaccine in 120 days from pathogen identification. The project was recognized by DARPA as “an exemplar of rapid vaccine development to the US Government” and the VaxCelerate project for Lassa fever is staged for the planning phase to go forward to large animal and ultimately human testing. A third and ongoing Q-VaxCelerate project was funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at DoD to develop a safe and effective vaccine for Coxiella burnetii infection, the causative organism of Q fever.
Several other important scientific developments have been made at VIC, including the invention and demonstration of efficacy, of a novel fusion protein or Jantibody that broadly activates the immune system and targets it against tumor-specific antigens. This molecule has demonstrated efficacy in murine models of both ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Ongoing work to explore the efficacy of the Jantibody in combination with other chemotherapeutic and immunotherapeutic approaches in murine models of cancer was supported by a grant from the DOD and now by a new biotech company that spun out of VIC, called Aperisys. Also, recent research in the VIC laboratory has demonstrated that specific near-infrared wavelengths of light, when applied to the skin, could increase the efficacy of intradermally delivered vaccines like influenza vaccine. This work is now progressing towards first in human safety and efficacy testing in collaboration with a laser company, Veralase, scientists at the University of California, Irvine and the Translational Medicine Center at MGH. Finally, working with colleagues at the St Joseph’s Translational Research Institute in Atlanta, we discovered that autologous peripheral blood or bone marrow-derived B cells could facilitate wound healing in rodent cardiac injury models. The scientific team at VIC subsequently demonstrated the applicability of this novel cell-based therapy to both skin and nerve injury in rodent models. The B cell therapy technology is being prepared for a Phase I clinical trial of the use of autologous B cells to treat diabetic foot ulcers.
Finally, I would like to highlight that private philanthropy has played a key role in underpinning the success that we have seen to date at VIC. The many Friends of VIC have continued to give much needed philanthropic funds to support key administrative / project management functions, pivotal pilot studies and educational programs to support the training of the next generation of innovative scientists. These funds have been very successfully used to leverage significantly larger amounts of support for specific projects, from Governmental organizations, like the NIH and DoD, and Private Foundations including JDRF, Marsha Rivkin Foundation, and the Trinity Foundation. We are deeply grateful for this support.