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EpiVax Receives Grant to Study Modified FVIII Proteins

EpiVax Inc., a Providence Rhode Island-based company that specializes in vaccines and other protein-based therapeutics, received a $528,313 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to "re-engineer" factor VIII (FVIII) proteins to treat hemophilia A, without the risk of developing an inhibitor.

Inhibitors result when the immune system identifies infused factor product as a foreign substance, releasing antibodies that neutralize its ability to promote clotting. Inhibitors can render factor therapy ineffective, compelling physicians to employ more intensive therapy regimens and/or alternative treatments. This can become a complicated, costly side effect for patients and a therapeutic challenge for doctors.

The SBIR grant will allow EpiVax to begin "proof-of-principle" studies in mice to determine if re-engineered FVIII can be used as a viable treatment, without the risk of inhibitor development. To do this, the company will alter the part of the protein that triggers inhibitor development. The technique includes the use of "demmunization of functional therapeutics," computer algorithms that help determine the part of the protein that should be targeted. EpiVax will collaborate on the study with David Scott, PhD, professor at the University of Maryland-Baltimore School of Medicine, and Edwin Forman, MD, physician in the pediatric oncology/hematology department at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence.

"We hope to make it possible for persons living with hemophilia to avoid a common side effect of FVIII—the development of ‘inhibitors’ to the life-saving therapy," said Dr. Anne De Groot, EpiVax president and CEO. "This is an entirely novel approach to improving factor VIII therapy."

EpiVax has received more than $3 million in SBIR grants since its founding in 1998. The NHLBI is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Providence Business News, June 27, 2007