Virax to Develop Hepatitis B Treatment With New York Blood Center

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Virax Holdings Limited announced today that it has signed a development agreement with the New York Blood Center to develop a novel treatment for hepatitis B (HBV) infection.

The new treatment is Virax's third product under development and is a significant addition to the company's portfolio of potential drugs in the development pipeline.

Dr. David Beames, CEO of Virax Holdings, commented, "The collaboration with Alfred Prince, MD of the New York Blood Center will further broaden Virax's infectious disease treatment programs."

"The new development program will be based in part on Virax's Co-X-Gene technology," explained Beames. "Virax is continuing its strategy of using the Co-X-Gene platform to add new products to its portfolio."

"It is gratifying that the company's expertise in early development of immune therapies is being recognized around the world and that we have this opportunity to work with a scientist of the eminence of Dr Prince," said Beames.

"Hepatitis B is an extremely serious and widespread problem for which there is currently no cure. Virax is pleased to have established this collaboration in an effort to meet this vital need. Preclinical work is expected to commence next year, with late 2003 as the goal for commencement of clinical trials."

Commercial terms of the development agreement have not been disclosed. Both parties will be involved in the development of novel candidate drugs. Virax will contribute its Co-X-Gene technology and viral vector expertise to commercialize the New York Blood Center hepatitis B research. In exchange, Virax will retain commercial rights to further develop the most promising leads.

The New York Blood Center is the US's largest independent blood distribution and services organization, supplying blood and blood products to more than 200 hospitals and 20 million people in the greater New York area. The center is home of the Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute, which has 18 laboratories dedicated to the study of blood and the prevention, treatment and cure of blood-borne and blood-related diseases. It has an impressive record of taking products from early stage development through to commercial products.

Internationally renowned hepatitis expert Alfred M. Prince, MD, heads the NYBC Virology Laboratory, studying DNA-based HBV immunization and immunotherapies. This laboratory was instrumental in developing a series of tests for the diagnosis of HBV in the 1960s and 1970s. It was also responsible for developing a plasma derived HBV preventative vaccine that is now in widespread use in Asia for mass immunization.

"Our collaboration with Virax is an important and promising step towards providing a much needed treatment for a devastating illness," said Prince.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hepatitis B is one of the most common infectious diseases in the world. The WHO estimates that more than 2 billion people have been infected with hepatitis B virus worldwide, and more than 350 million are chronic carriers of the virus. These chronically infected persons are at high risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, diseases that kill about one million persons each year.

While vaccines for preventing hepatitis B have been launched successfully in many instances, safe and effective treatments and cures have proven more difficult to develop. Existing hepatitis medications have shown an alarming tendency to become ineffective as the virus quickly develops resistance to the treatments. Therefore the need for a more effective product to treat hepatitis B has never been greater.

Virax is developing its Co-X-Gene platform to deliver a range of new therapies that harness the body's immune system to fight disease. The company is currently involved in another two significant clinical development programs. In the area of HIV/AIDS, the results of a Phase I/IIa human clinical trial of VIR201, an immune-based drug therapy are due at the end of this year. This is a major milestone for the company as it will provide preliminary safety and some immunogenicity data on the platform technology Co-X-Gene. Virax has also just filed a patent application for a future prostate cancer treatment. Pre-clinical testing of this medication is due to commence at the beginning of 2003.

Melbourne-based Virax Holdings Limited is a publicly listed development stage biotechnology company engaged in the commercial development of immune-based therapies for HIV/AIDS, cancer, other infectious diseases, and auto-immune diseases.

Source: PR Newswire