UCT to collaborate internationally on AIDS and cervical cancer vaccines

16 July 2002
UCT's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IIDMM) has entered into an agreement with Large Scale Biology Corporation (Nasdaq: LSBC) of Vacaville, California in the United States, to collaborate on the development and manufacture of vaccines intended to protect against infectious diseases, including human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), for which there are currently no effective or cost-efficient vaccines. HPV is associated with cervical cancer and HIV with AIDS.

The agreement extends a research collaboration first initiated in 1999 between Professor Ed Rybicki from UCT's Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and LSBC. Promising results have already been obtained for both HPV and HIV vaccines at UCT using LSBC's GENEWARE® system.

The new collaboration will develop the most promising candidate vaccines so that they can be manufactured for clinical trials. "The vaccines will be manufactured using LSBC's proprietary GENEWARE technology to express relevant proteins in the leaves of living plants. Following pre-clinical trials, selected vaccine candidates will be manufactured at LSBC's bio-processing facility in Owensboro, Kentucky, in the US, and then delivered to UCT for human clinical trials said Rybicki.

The comprehensive agreement grants UCT a licence to use LSBC technology for manufacture, as well as the rights to the potential sale of successful vaccines in Africa. LSBC retains rights to the commercialisation of the vaccines in North America and Europe.

The collaborators will share commercial rights elsewhere in the world. In addition, the agreement allows both parties to pursue joint-funding for the vaccine development initiatives from governmental and philanthropic organisations concerned with accelerating the development of cost-effective vaccines and therapeutics for cervical cancer and AIDS.

Rybicki said: "We are very excited about this collaboration, because it brings appropriate technology to South Africa to enable the development of cost-effective vaccines for Africa."

Robert L Erwin, Chairman of LSBC, called the collaboration "one of the world's most important global women's health initiatives," citing more than 600 deaths daily from cervical cancer, all of which are associated with HPV.

Professor Anna-Lise Williamson of UCT's Division of Medical Virology and the overall project director, said that cervical screening and treatment programmes were inadequate in developing countries, so an HPV vaccine would have greatest impact for women in the poorest regions of the world.

"In South Africa, it is estimated that one in nine is infected with HIV and globally there are 14 000 new infections a day, so the need for an effective HIV vaccine is urgent," she added. "In order to deliver candidate HIV vaccines, we need to be part of the global initiative and LSBC is a good company to collaborate with to achieve this."

Welcoming the new UCT alliance with LSBC, Dr Tim Tucker, Director of the South African Aids Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI), confirmed that it was an integral part of SAAVI's mandate to develop an affordable, effective, and locally relevant HIV subtype-C vaccine for southern Africa.

Dr Carl Albrecht, co-ordinator of research for the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), said that organisation had supported the HPV-vaccine initiative from the beginning and was "delighted with this excellent trans-global co-operation agreement which will help tremendously to make an effective and affordable vaccine against cervical cancer a reality in South Africa".

"This alliance is just the beginning of a very long process," said John D Fowler, President of LSBC. "It is impossible to predict the medical or financial results of all the intense effort ahead. However, we are confident that an important key to saving time and costs in producing safe, effective vaccines and therapeutics for these global health goals will result from our GENEWARE technology platform. Our respect for the scientists of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine at the University of Cape Town is great, matching our hopes for this ambitious humanitarian goal."

(Note: The IIDMM is currently involved in an intense national and international fundraising campaign to generate capital to refurbish facilities for the new Institute.)

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