New company to develop vaccines, discovered by City of Hope researchers, to protect against CMV infections in cancer patients
May 3, 2015

Immunotherapy-based approach could ultimately prevent brain damage in developing fetuses

DUARTE, Calif. — City of Hope and Fortress Biotech have reached an agreement to form a new subsidiary company, DiaVax Biosciences, that will develop two novel vaccines against cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, a life-threatening illness in people with weakened or underdeveloped immune systems, such as cancer patients and developing fetuses. Enlisting the defensive power of the immune system, the vaccines could open the door to a new way of treating a devastating opportunistic infection affecting hundreds of thousands worldwide.

Developed in the lab of Don J. Diamond, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at City of Hope, with National Cancer Institute funding since 1997, the vaccines are targeted at controlling CMV infections in recipients of stem cell and solid organ transplants. Using specifically targeted immune system cells known as CMV-specific T cells, the vaccines will help prevent the body’s immune system from being overcome by CMV, a relative of the herpes family of viruses. More than half of the U.S. population is infected with CMV by the age of 40, but healthy adults usually have no symptoms. In people with weakened immune systems, however, the virus can prove fatal.

“We believe that these vaccines represent a turning point in the treatment of CMV infection and, as such, have the potential to become a model for the treatment of other opportunistic infections as well,” said Diamond, who will chair the scientific advisory board of DiaVax. “The agreement with Fortress not only allows us to make these vaccines available to more people who need them, it also highlights the viability of this new type of vaccine therapy.”

The vaccines – Triplex and PepVax – will be the subject of multisite phase II clinical trials, one of which already has begun enrollment (PepVax). The other (Triplex) will begin enrollment in fall of 2015. Supported by the National Cancer Institute, those trials could ultimately lead to even greater impact for City of Hope’s research. DiaVax has entered into an option with City of Hope for exclusive worldwide rights to a universal immunotherapeutic vaccine, called Pentamer, that could prevent the transmission of CMV in utero. Such transmission leads to thousands of cases of irreversible brain damage every year.

If all three vaccines are fully developed and commercialized, City of Hope’s impact on the therapeutic vaccine field would grow exponentially. Together the vaccines could yield more than $100 million for the institution and its efforts to transform the future of health for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases.

“We are pleased to enter into this collaboration with City of Hope and Dr. Don Diamond,” said Lindsay A. Rosenwald, chairman and CEO of Fortress Biotech. “Current antiviral therapies used in this context are often toxic and merely suppress CMV during treatment. The vaccines we have licensed represent a promising new T cell based, immunotherapeutic approach for controlling CMV in patients with weakened immune systems. An effective vaccine could educate the body's immune system to fight CMV."

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Nicole White
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About City of Hope
City of Hope is an independent research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Designated as a comprehensive cancer center, the highest recognition bestowed by the National Cancer Institute, City of Hope is also a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, with research and treatment protocols that advance care throughout the nation. City of Hope’s main hospital is located in Duarte, California, just northeast of Los Angeles, with clinics in Southern California. It is ranked as one of "America's Best Hospitals" in cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Founded in 1913, City of Hope is a pioneer in the fields of bone marrow transplantation and genetics.