UW Today

May 8, 2012

UW to collaborate on biodefense drug development

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

An $8.1 million biodefense grant will fund the development of new drugs to treat some of the worlds most dangerous diseases, including Ebola, plague, Japanese encephalitis and other lethal pathogens.

The University of Washington,  the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and a Seattle biotech company, Kineta Inc., announced receipt of the funding May 8.

Ebola virions

Ebola virions

The grant to advance next generation antiviral therapeutics is from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“This award enables us to push further and work with more high priority viruses,” said  Dr. Michael Gale, Jr., UW professor of immunology and principal investigator of the grant.  “These diseases are major concerns of the United States government for their risk of sparking a pandemic and their potential use as bioterrorist weapons.  By utilizing an innate immune pathway we hope to develop better drugs that wont be out-smarted by viral mutation.”

Gale, who is also an  adjunct professor of global health and microbiology and affiliate investigator of the Clinical Research Division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, directs the NIH-supported Center for The Study of Immune Mechanisms of Virus Control  at UW.  He studies innate immunity to virus infection, and the intracellular immune processes and virus-host interactions that control viral replication and infection outcome.

Nipah virions isolated from spinal fluid.

Nipah virions isolated from spinal fluid.CDC

“A primary mission of the Galveston National Lab is to engage our unique resources in translating research ideas into products aimed at combating emerging infectious diseases,” said Geisbert. “This collaboration between Kineta, the UW and the GNL leverages expertise and resources from academia and industry to promote the advancement of countermeasures against two high-priority public health and biodefense threat agents.”

“The potential human benefit is great, with these therapies holding potential to treat an array of common and obscure viruses, those of moderate and grave concern,” said Iadonato.

This infusion of support will help Kineta move two, small molecule drug candidates closer to  human clinical trials. The program, Agonists of the Retinoic Acid Inducible Gene I Innate Immune Pathway,  is geared toward infectious diseases in need of better treatments:  influenza, hepatitis C, West Nile virus, and respiratory syncytial virus.  Retinoic Acid Inducible Gene I is a molecular “on/off” switch that triggers the human body’s innate immune system to eliminate infection.

This grant will increase the number of disease targets to include less commonly known henipaviruses and filoviruses such as yellow fever, Ebola, Marburg, plague and others. Currently, treatment of all viral diseases is severely limited by a lack of effective drugs.