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Oxford Biomedica licenses its technology for HIV drug

By Gregory Roumeliotis , 22-Mar-2006

British gene therapy firm Oxford Biomedica has licensed its VSV-G viral envelope technology for gene delivery to American biotech company VIRxSYS which hopes it can use it to successfully produce its promising anti-HIV/AIDS product currently in Phase II trials.

VSV-G uses the envelope protein of the vesicular stomatis virus to increase the ability of gene therapy vectors to transduce a broad range of human cell types.

Oxford BioMedica bought the rights to the technology from US biotech firm Chiron in 2004, looking to expand its gene therapy patent estate.

Now VIRxSYS will use this technology with its HIV lentiviral vector, VRX496, to meet milestones such as high-efficiency gene transfer, transfer of genetic material stably into dividing and quiescent cells, and a reduced risk of immunogenicity or insertional oncogenesis.

Financial details of the agreement have not been disclosed but Oxford BioMedica said it will receive an upfront licence fee and annual maintenance payments, as well as payments on the achievement of clinical and regulatory milestones by VIRxSYS and product royalties.

"We are delighted to welcome VIRxSYS to the growing list of Oxford BioMedica's technology licensees," Ofxord Biomedica's CEO, Professor Alan Kingsman, commented.

"This agreement further underlines the breadth and strength of our proprietary gene delivery technologies."

The current challenge for gene therapy is to develop vectors -vehicles that deliver genetic material into cells - that deliver genes efficiently to human cells without toxicity.

VRX496 uses the backbone of the virus towards this purpose, since it is created by removing the disease components of HIV and inserting anti-HIV therapeutic payload, called antisense.

VIRxSYS claims its HIV lentiviral vector can deliver therapeutic payloads into human cells with greater than 90 per cent efficiency without toxicity and inhibit HIV replication by over 99 per cent.

VRX496 is the only lentiviral vector permitted for use in human clinical trials by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and to date none of the patients in the trial have experienced any adverse events due to treatment, indicating the vector may be a safe option for applications in humans.

Since approximately 40m people worldwide are infected with HIV, the market for drugs to treat HIV/AIDS is in excess of $4bn(€3.31bn) annually and is expected to surpass $10bn before the end of the decade.

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