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Salmonella-based vaccine named as finalist


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October 29, 2007

A Biodesign Institute research initiative aimed at advancing global health through the development of new vaccines has been selected as a finalist for the annual Governor’s Council of Innovation Awards.

The award finalist in the category “Innovator of the Year Award for Academia” is in recognition of a project led by Roy Curtiss III, director of the institute’s Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology. The goal of the Curtiss research team’s efforts is to benefit humankind by improving the health of individuals, especially children, throughout the world.

“It is a great honor to be nominated for this prestigious award, and an even greater honor to have been selected as a finalist,” says Curtiss, also a professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences.

Curtiss leads a worldwide effort to tame salmonella, a bacterium that is the leading cause of food poisoning by making salmonella harmless and then using it to treat a variety of infectious diseases.

If effective, this technology has the potential to be used for a range of existing and new vaccines. Current disease targets include pneumonia, hepatitis, tuberculosis, plague and human and avian flu.

Substantial progress on the development of the vaccine against bacterial pneumonia has occurred during the past year, and the Curtiss group plans to begin the first human clinical trials with this vaccine early next year.

Curtiss is helping to reduce the savage inequity in global health by giving even the world’s poorest children access to affordable, effective vaccines while also providing profound benefits for U.S citizens.

For bacterial pneumonia alone, the statistics are numbing. Bacterial pneumonia kills more children around the world each year than any other infectious disease. It also is to blame for some 700 cases of meningitis, 17,000 blood infections and 5 million middle-ear infections in the United States, accounting for 30 million physician office visits each year and an estimated $2 billion in treatment costs. It also is a fatal disease for individuals who have lost their spleens as a consequence of rupture because of injury.

In July 2005, Curtiss received a $14.8 million grant – one of the largest individual investigator awards in ASU history – from the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, funded primarily by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to lead this international research project. Curtiss was the only researcher in the entire American Southwest to receive funding (one of 43 international recipients out of 1,500 proposals), a testament to his world-renowned reputation.

His global team’s goal is to perfect a safe, potent vaccine for this lethal pathogen that can be tolerated even by newborn babies and administered as a low cost, heat-stable, needle-free, one-dose solution in a simple eyedropper.

Curtiss’ team has spliced critical parts of pneumococcus essential for causing disease into non-disease-producing salmonella. Using salmonella as a kind of “Trojan horse,” the pneumococci parts normally introduced into the mucosal system through the nose or the mouth now are produced by the salmonella and migrate instead to the stomach and intestine. By using the body’s own defense mechanisms to induce immunity, Curtiss achieves a vaccine that offers potential for lifetime protection.

This bacterial pneumonia vaccine project involves more than 100 researchers from the Biodesign Institute and throughout the world, a true international effort with collaborators from Australia, South Korea and the United States. The Curtiss team includes 14 collaborators at 10 institutions: two in Korea, two in Australia and six in the United States. The current pneumonia vaccine used most often in children requires multiple doses over time and only protects against seven of the estimated 100 serotypes (strains) of the disease; the proposed vaccine would address 95 percent of the strains.

For Curtiss, the Gates Foundation award should be an extra funding push he and his collaborators need to translate decades of basic research into a robust vaccine that’s safe even for newborns. Preliminary studies have been successful in the past year and a half, and the team hopes to move the vaccine technology forward to begin human clinical trials early next year.

Curtiss was named this past summer the “Bioscience Researcher of the Year” at the third-annual Excellence in Bioscience Awards Dinner, sponsored by the Arizona BioIndustry Association.

Curtiss was wooed to ASU’s Biodesign Institute in the fall of 2004 from Washington University in St. Louis. Before coming to ASU, he had obtained 22 patents and garnered more than $42 million in research grants over the course of his career.

Winners will be announced during the Dec. 6 awards ceremony at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The event will commemorate the top technological and business achievements of the year.

The Arizona Technology Council, in partnership with the Arizona Department of Commerce, chose the finalists for the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation in their respected categories. The award recipients were selected by an independent selection committee comprising local business and academic leaders, based on their contribution to the business and technology community and their technological innovation. One company, within each category, will be announced as the winner on the night of the awards gala.

Joe Caspermeyer, Joseph.Caspermeyer@asu.edu
(480)727-0369
Biodesign Institute