September 9, 2011

Biotech firms lead healthy innovation

FORT COLLINS – Millions of people in India, southeast Asia, Africa and Australia have suffered from the crippling effects of the chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne pathogen known for its intense and chronic arthritic effects. First identified in Tanzania, the virus’ name comes from the Makonde language spoken by local ethnic groups, meaning “that which bends up,” referring to the contorted posture of many victims.

Recently, cases have appeared in Europe, and since some of the same mosquitoes that spread dengue fever can carry chikungunya, there’s a possibility the disease could spread worldwide, according to Dan Stinchcomb, president of Inviragen Inc.

“It’s very devastating, and there have been some deaths associated with the recent outbreak, but at a low frequency,” Stinchcomb said. “It’s not as deadly as dengue, but it can be more debilitating. The arthritis that people can get after infection can last months.”

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At the moment, there’s no approved treatment for the disease, but Stinchcomb and Inviragen are hoping to change that. In early August, the Fort Collins-based company, in collaboration with the University of Texas Medical Branch, announced it has received a four-year, $3-million-plus grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a chikungunya vaccine.

Half of the money will directly fund product development at Inviragen, where researchers are also advancing vaccines for dengue, West Nile, plague and smallpox, and hand, foot, and mouth disease. Stinchcomb said the grant should enable Inviragen and its partners to get the chikungunya vaccine ready for human trials, a major step in taking a drug from research labs to community health clinics.

Working to develop vaccines for diseases is tough business, not just from scientific and public-health perspectives, but also in terms of regulatory barriers. Gaining approval and funding for products is a race against time, often out of the hands of researchers and technicians.

Bringing a drug or device to market has its challenges, said Holli Riebel, president of the Colorado BioScience Association: “What makes it difficult right now is the regulatory market.”


FORT COLLINS – Millions of people in India, southeast Asia, Africa and Australia have suffered from the crippling effects of the chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne pathogen known for its intense and chronic arthritic effects. First identified in Tanzania, the virus’ name comes from the Makonde language spoken by local ethnic groups, meaning “that which bends up,” referring to the contorted posture of many victims.

Recently, cases have appeared in Europe, and since some of the same mosquitoes that spread dengue fever can carry chikungunya, there’s a possibility the disease could spread worldwide, according to Dan Stinchcomb, president of Inviragen Inc.…

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