OraVax Inc. said it has acquired from Vanderbilt University theexclusive worldwide rights to the cagA gene, which is anintegral component of Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium thatcauses most peptic ulcers and has been linked to stomachcancer.

OraVax said it plans to develop a diagnostic test using the cagAgene to determine the predisposition of people to peptic ulcersdue to H. pylori infection. The company also will study thepotential use of the gene for vaccines against peptic ulcerdisease.

OraVax noted that the discoverers of the cagA gene atVanderbilt have shown that antibodies to the gene are presentin 100 percent of people with peptic ulcers caused by H. pylori.In addition, they found that the gene is present in 60 percentof all H. pylori strains and approaches 100 percent in strainsfrom patients with peptic ulcers due to H. pylori.

OraVax of Cambridge, Mass., is primarily focused on developingvaccines against H. pylori. Robert Rombauer, the company'svice president of business development and marketing andsales, said its first vaccine formulation will enter clinicals nextyear.

The principle antigen in the formulation is urease, an enzymeexcreted by H. pylori. A future formulation could include otherantigens, such as the protein coded for by the cagA gene, saidRombauer. -- Brenda Sandburg

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