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BPA backs CMV vaccine project

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has secured industry backing to take the next step in developing a vaccine against cytomegalovirus (CMV), the leading infectious cause of abnormalities including cerebral palsy and deafness in newborn babies.

BioPharmaceuticals Australia (BPA) has awarded a grant under its Biopharmaceutical Development Fund (BDF) that will provide funding to assist with production of a clinical grade formulation of the vaccine and further research into its activity and toxicity – crucial steps before Phase I clinical trials. The BDF is a unique Queensland program supporting the commercialisation of new biologic drug prospects.

QIMR Berghofer’s Professor Rajiv Khanna said the development of a CMV vaccine has been given high priority by international authorities including the US National Vaccine Advisory Committee, where it is estimated a 100 per cent effective vaccine could save US$4 billion in health costs each year.

“Attempts have been made previously to design a CMV vaccine but have produced mixed results,” Professor Khanna said.

“At QIMR Berghofer, we have developed a new formulation. Our unique combination vaccine has been highly effective in inducing virus-specific neutralising antibodies and T-cell responses in animal models and with the support of BPA we are able to take this next important step.”

The vaccine cell line will be developed at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at The University of Queensland.

Professor Khanna said the development of a CMV vaccine would prevent susceptible individuals from the harmful effects of CMV infection and provide massive savings in health care.

“CMV is a major cause of disease and death in people with a compromised immune system and adds significant costs for transplant patients,” Professor Khanna said.

“Many infants exposed to CMV during pregnancy develop a range of complications which may also include epilepsy, vision impairment and moderate to severe intellectual impairments. “It is estimated 4000 babies are infected during pregnancy in Australia each year, and about 400 of those will display symptoms at birth.”

At the completion of this project QIMR Berghofer will seek to run a Phase I clinical trial in conjunction with a commercial partner.