Vical Inc. of San Diego announced today that it has acquiredrights to two separate gene therapy technologies that are beingdeveloped at the University of Chicago and at the University ofMichigan.

Vical's "direct gene transfer technology requires no viralcomponents, cellular hosts or other delivery vehicles," RobertZaugg, Vical's director of business development, told BioWorld."Naked DNA is injected directly into the patient."

Zaugg explained that in animal studies using this technique toinject DNA into skeletal or cardiac muscle, there is significantgene expression in those tissues. If the gene is for a nativeprotein, such as a cytokine, Zaugg said, "we can getpharmacological levels expressed in the blood stream." Vicalresearchers have demonstrated this in mice for blood-clottingFactor IX.

At the University of Michigan, Vical will collaborate with genetherapy researchers Gary and Elizabeth Nabel, who aredeveloping gene-based methods to treat patients withadvanced malignant melanoma. "Gary Nabel is the onlyinvestigator in the clinic with a direct injected naked DNA,"Zaugg told BioWorld.

Nabel's studies are at the Phase I/II stage now. Nabel isinjecting patients with a DNA construct coding for a humanclass I histocompatibility antigen, with the idea of stimulatingthe patient's immune response to the tumor.

"He has gene expression, but he doesn't know about theimmune response yet," Zaugg said.

At Chicago's School of Medicine, Jeffrey Leiden is researchingways to directly administer genes to the myocardium, atechnology that could result in gene-based products fortreating ischemic heart disease and vascular restenosis.

Privately held Vical has the exclusive worldwide option orlicense rights to existing and future patents on actual genetherapy approaches that might result from these researchefforts.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.