Southwest Research Institute will share in an $18 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a vaccine that can be used to protect humans from tularemia, a potential biothreat also known as rabbit fever.
SwRI will share the contract with the University of Texas at San Antonio and Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, which is based in New Mexico. SwRI’s pharmaceutical testing laboratories will formulate UTSA’s modified bacterium for human clinical trials using intradermal injection with the goal to develop a vaccine that protects humans for up to one year from tularemia, which is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis.
SwRI will serve as the principal investigator and assist the team in improving the vaccine’s stability and in extending immunity with a slow-release formulation.
“There is an urgent need to develop a tularemia vaccine that is safe, effective and supported by sufficient data to be approved by the FDA,” said [Nanovaccine Institute member] Dr. Joe McDonough, SwRI’s director of Pharmaceuticals and Bioengineering.
The $18 million contract will expand on UTSA researcher Dr. Karl Klose’s development of Fn-igID, a vaccine that can protect against airborne Francisella exposure in animal models.
“This is something we discovered in our laboratory, right here in San Antonio, that is now moving one step closer to having a practical outcome of protecting humans against a biothreat,” said Klose, a professor at UTSA’s Robert J. Kleberg Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg College of Sciences. “Our close collaboration is enabling all of this to move forward.”
Tularemia, which is rare in humans, is typically found in infected animals — especially rabbits. Airborne Francisella is highly infectious and is classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as a Category A biothreat agent. When introduced into the lungs, the bacterium can cause a tularemia infection and can be potentially fatal. As a result, the bacterium has been developed as an airborne bioweapon, posing a threat to national security.
Klose and his research team ultimately decided to develop the vaccine from Francisella novicida, a closely related bacterium that is benign for humans.
Once SwRI and UTSA optimize the vaccine, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute will conduct advanced testing to ensure the efficacy and safety of the drug.
The contract represents a significant accomplishment for the Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio. The center was founded in 2012 by UTSA, SwRI, Texas Biomedical Research Institute and UT Health San Antonio, leverages the assets of San Antonio’s four leading research institutions to identify and develop vaccine candidates that promote and protect public health.
“This program exemplifies the progress that happens when institutions are brought together through partnerships like the Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio,” added Dr. McDonough, a VDCOSA scientific co-director.
“By combining SwRI’s medical countermeasure development and formulation development experience with Dr. Klose’s and UTSA’s innovation, we will provide a much-needed solution to a critical problem,” said McDonough, who is also scientific co-director for the Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio.
– W. Scott Bailey, San Antonio Business Journal, 02/10/20