Monday, March 29, 2010

Novartis Licenses Lung Cancer Vaccine Based on Co-X-Gene Technology

A cancer vaccine developed at Australian National University (ANU) over two decades ago is back in the spotlight as the subject of a new multi-million drug development deal.

The Swiss-based Novartis pharmaceutical company has taken out a license to develop the TG4010 lung cancer vaccine, which is based on Co-X-Gene technology pioneered at The John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) at ANU in the late 1980s.

Novartis has struck an initial $10 million option deal with the French-based biotechnology company Transgene, which holds the current license to TG4010. Novartis could ultimately pay up to $950 million to develop the vaccine, pending the outcomes of clinical trials that are currently taking place.

Co-X-Gene is created when a virus is tweaked so that is makes a disease-fighting antigen and an immune signal, called a cytokine, which encourages the body’s immune system to resist the disease.

The technology is also being used to develop vaccines for other forms of cancer and HIV. Co-X-Gene has been used in a Sydney-based HIV therapeutic vaccine trial with encouraging results. A much larger trial is now underway in South Africa in HIV-infected patients.

The research behind the technology was conducted in the late 1980s by Professor Ian Ramshaw from JCSMR and CSIRO researchers Dr David Boyle, Dr Marion Andrew and Dr Barbara Coupar, who were seconded to ANU at the time.

“It’s satisfying when you have discoveries in the laboratory that you can see have uses for helping to combat major diseases, even though the drugs may be developed overseas,” said Professor Ramshaw, who leads the Vaccine Immunology Group at JCSMR.

ANU stands to receive a share of the royalty payments from the deal, which would help support future research efforts at the University.

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