UW News

November 12, 2009

UW will lead $13 million collaborative vaccine project

Kineta, Inc., a Seattle biotechnology company, will partner with the UW to develop novel vaccine adjuvants Iagents that help boost the immune system. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), awarded Kineta a $6.8 million subcontract, which is part of a $13 million award to the UW. Dr. Michael Gale, Jr., UW associate professor of immunology, will serve as program director and principal investigator to direct the studies on the contract. Gale is also adjunct associate professor of global health and microbiology, and affiliate investigator of the Clinical Research Division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center,

Under the terms of the five-year contract, Kineta will identify, analyze and initiate preclinical studies on small molecules that activate the retinoic acid inducible gene I (RIG-I) pathway of the innate immune response. Gale’s lab will evaluate the mechanisms of action of the selected lead compounds and develop methods of optimization. Adding to the strength of the scientific team is Dr. Michael Katze, UW professor of microbiology and associate director of the Washington Regional Primate Research Center. Katze will provide bioinformatics to support the work of the contract, and Dr. Shawn P. Iadonato, chief scientific officer at Kineta, will lead the high through-put screening and pharmacology work.

The overarching goal of the contract is to develop vaccine adjuvants that tap into and utilize the power of the innate immune system to fight disease. “Kineta’s scientific team is honored to receive this award to assist the UW and the NIH in carrying out this important work. We look forward to delivering into the clinical pipeline new agents to boost the power of vaccines to improve human health,” said Iadonato.

Gale concurred, saying, “More effective and potent vaccines are in critical need here in the United States and around the world, particularly to address key viral infections, including infections from the influenza viruses and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In addition, there is an important need to develop novel adjuvants to support the development of an effective vaccine against hepatitis C virus.”

Gale’s laboratory has been instrumental in defining the virus and host processes by which RNA viruses, including hepatitis C virus, West Nile virus, influenza virus, and now HIV, trigger and control innate immune defenses during infection. Gale’s research team has been credited with identifying the RIG-I pathway as a key to triggering immunity against RNA viruses early in infection. RIG-I is a vital cellular protein that functions as a molecular “on/off” switch triggering the body’s immune defenses. Molecules (adjuvants) that activate the RIG-I pathway, when added to vaccines, have the potential to substantially accelerate, prolong or enhance the activity of the vaccines.

Kineta is a discovery-stage biotechnology company focused on the development of new types of antiviral and autoimmune drugs. The Kineta team has a track record of developing novel drug classes to treat a variety of viral diseases.