Firm cooks dengue vaccine
The tropical disease infects millions, and an Aiea company is prepping clinical trials
Hawaii Biotech Inc. and the Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative are developing a vaccine against dengue fever and will make it available to regions affected by the tropical disease.
The initiative is a program of the International Vaccine Institute, based in Seoul and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the government of South Korea.
Dr. Leonard Firestone, Hawaii Biotech president and chief executive officer, said lab work on dengue fever vaccine is being done at the biopharmaceutical company's Aiea Heights headquarters to prepare for clinical trials.
"Hawaii Biotech has a long history of working on this dengue fever vaccine, but now we're at a point where we're ready for clinical trials if we can procure the proper amount of funding," he said in a telephone interview from the company's Los Angeles offices.
"We have not yet determined how much money is involved because of this agreement," Firestone said. "We are all optimistic there will be significant funds to support our research.
"It's a feather in Hawaii Biotech's cap that these vaccine groups around the world have recognized our research and development programs and the promise of our dengue vaccine," he added.
The focus is on pediatric dengue vaccine because children worldwide are particularly vulnerable to dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, Firestone said.
But he said, "A vaccine like this could work very well with adults as well."
More than 2 billion people are exposed to dengue fever, which annually infects up to 100 million people, primarily children, according to the World Health Organization.
WHO estimates about 20,000 deaths occur each year from dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, the most severe forms of the disease.
Harold Margolis, director of the Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative, said in a news release, "Our primary objective is to ensure rapid introduction of dengue vaccines into immunization programs in all affected areas as soon as a vaccine becomes available.
"Working with Hawaii Biotech puts us in collaboration with one of the leading companies concerned with this important disease," Margolis said.
The Aiea laboratory is known for development of influenza and West Nile vaccines.
It is using a unique approach in development of the dengue vaccine, relying on production of virus components through genetics technology.
Firestone said the company's state-of-the-art vaccine protein manufacturing process "is ideal to address emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases at their origin in developing countries."
The company's vaccine technology was featured on the cover of the journal Nature on Jan. 22, 2004. It has attracted more than $30 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Dr. John Clemens, director general of the International Vaccine Institute, the only international organization dedicated to vaccine research and development, said he is enthusiastic about its association with Hawaii Biotech.
"We believe this partnership will greatly accelerate our work to reduce the burden of dengue in developing countries," he said.