LONDON, Ontario — Viron Therapeutics Inc. is one of Canada's first biotechnology companies to exploit the discovery that viral proteins can be used to inhibit the immune system.

Ronald Layden, Viron's president and CEO, told BioWorld International the company is building on the discoveries of its two founding scientists, Grant McFadden, head of the Laboratory for Viral Immunology and Pathogenesis at the John P. Robarts Research Institute, of London, and Alex Lucas, a cardiologist and a member of the department of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, also of London. McFadden and Lucas have made critical discoveries involving the identification of unique viral immunomodulatory proteins that allow viruses to avoid detection and destruction by the body's immune system.

According to McFadden, viruses teach much about how the immune system fails, not just in viral infections, but in cancers and other immune diseases as well. In essence, the viruses have "learned" to interrupt the immune system's circuitry at its earliest stages. These viral proteins have evolved over millions of years and effectively function as precise therapeutic molecules.

Some of the research was originally conducted at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, and Viron has just entered into an agreement with the university that provides the company with a full assignment of the intellectual property relating to a viral protein, SERP1, a serine protease inhibitor which has demonstrated potential in a wide range of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. One U.S. patent on the technology has already been issued for use in restenosis, and approval for two additional patents — one for use in arthritis and one for transplant rejection — also has been received from the U.S. Patent Office.

In addition, Viron has reached a deal with Biogen Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., covering know-how, molecular and cellular reagents, and cell lines for manufacturing. This will allow Viron to capitalize on Biogen's strong manufacturing expertise and the extensive research on SERP1 that has already been carried out by scientists at Biogen and the University of Alberta, Layden said. *