Virus Research Institute (VRI) Inc. said Wednesday it raised $9 millionin its third round of venture financing. The privately held Cambridge,Mass., company raised more than $12 million in two previous rounds.Founding investor HealthCare Ventures, and second-round investorsConcord Partners, Everest Trust and Gateway Venture Partnersparticipated in the latest financing, which included newcomers AetnaCasualty and Surety and Axiom Venture Partners. VRI president BillPacker said the money should fund research through mid-1995."The financing will permit VRI to accelerate the development of itsmost advanced vaccine and gene therapy programs, and to initiate itsanti-infective drug-discovery programs utilizing In Vivo ExpressionTechnology," which was developed by John Mekalanos, a HarvardMedical School professor and a VRI founder, Packer said.Others who founded the company in 1991 were Bernard Fields,chairman of the Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Department atHarvard, Myron Essex of the Harvard School of Public Health, andWilliam Haseltine, who was with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute andis now CEO of Human Genome Sciences Inc.The company has four major research and development programsunder way: vaccines against diarrheal disease, injectable and mucosalvaccine delivery systems, gene therapy against HIV, and anti-bacterialdrug-discovery programs against drug-resistant organisms.One of the keys to VRI's technology is a proprietary water-solublepolymer, polyphosphazene, which is used as an immunoadjuvant forinjectable vaccines, and, in the form of microspheres, is used for oral orother mucosal delivery of vaccines.The company, in conjunction with the Walter Reed Army Institute ofResearch, also is testing a variety of cholera vaccines. Its El Torvaccine has completed Phase II trials, and studies are progressing on avaccine for Bengal cholera, which appeared in late 1992. "Our goal isto come up with a live, oral, single-dose cholera vaccine," Packer said.VRI also is working on a rotavirus vaccine, in collaboration with theGamble Institute in Cincinnati, that is in Phase I studies. A sponsoredresearch program with Massachusetts General Hospital is in a Phase Idose-escalation study for a typhoid vaccine."A lot of this will be driven from the polymer," Dale Spriggs, VRI'sdirector of clinical research and development, told BioWorld. "One ofthe goals with the polymer is to come up with a mucosal delivery forvaccines. The hope is to move away from so many injections. Mostinfectious diseases start at a mucosal surface, or that's where they endup. If you could prevent that interaction at the mucosal surface, youcould prevent the disease."The gene therapy program involves an approach called IsoGeneticTherapy. The goal is to identify uninfected cells within an HIV-infected person, and genetically alter the cells so they can resist furtherspread of the infection.The anti-bacterial program, Spriggs noted, is just getting off theground, although VRI has "identified a few key drug-resistantorganisms." n0602094vri
-- Jim Shrine
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