The Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) was founded 5 years ago with a goal to accelerate the development of novel broadly applicable vaccine and immunotherapies for infectious diseases, cancer and type 1 diabetes. Over 5 years, VIC has developed 7 products within its pipeline and partnered 3 products with pharmaceutical industry and US Government agencies. It has negotiated 3 further licensing agreements for its technologies and has successfully raised considerable philanthropic support for this effort.
VaxCelerate is an excellent example of a project supported by VIC and funded by the Department of Defense. The 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. Last year, 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 now in the planning stage to go forward to large animal and ultimately human testing. A third Q-VaxCelerate project was funded by the 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 both 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 is now supported by a grant from the DOD and in a co-development project with Pfizer. 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 and academicians at the University of California, Irvine. Finally, working with colleagues at the St Joseph’s Translational Research Institute in Atlanta, has led to the discovery of the novel finding that autologous peripheral blood or bone marrow derived B cells could facilitate wound healing in models of cardiac, limb and skin injury. This ongoing work in the VIC lab is now supported by the Trinity Foundation with the objective of developing a simple autologous cell based therapy for skin wound healing.
Finally, it needs to be made clear that private philanthropy has played a key role in underpinning the success that we have seen to date at VIC. From the first days of VIC, Ms. Cynthia and Marie Croatti, Mona Levenstein, Sarah, David and Jeff Newton, Joan and Gene Hill , Mary Elizabeth Field and Andrew and Michelle Feinberg provided, and continue to give, much needed philanthropic funds to support key administrative / project management functions and pilot studies. 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.