A Massachusetts biotechnology firm has been awarded $3 million by the National Institutes of Health to develop a vaccine for the potentially fatal West Nile Virus. The virus can cause encephalitis. However, most who contract it experience only flu-like symptoms and never realize they have been exposed. The virus first appeared in the Western Hemisphere last year when it killed seven people and sickened more than 60 others in the New York area. While no deaths have been reported this year, mosquitoes carrying the virus have been found in New York. The virus has also been located in birds in the Northeast and New York.
OraVax Inc., a Cambridge, Mass-based subsidiary of Britain's Peptide Therapeutics Group, has been working on the West Nile vaccine since last fall. They announced that the vaccine will be developed by using a proven 60-year-old yellow fever vaccine. The vaccine will cause a mild infection with no symptoms and leave the person immunized against West Nile. Testing could begin on humans within the next 18 months.