AVI Biopharma Out to Reinvent Itself, Making RNA-based Drugs for Ebola and Other Nasty Things
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Still, Hudson has been recruiting new members of his management team, who are looking for a challenge to work on what he calls “an unpolished diamond.” CFO David Boyle, formerly of Berkeley, CA-based Xoma, pointed to one area where he sees potential: treatments for people who have been exposed to Ebola and Marburg virus, as well as Dengue fever.
The company has run tests that show monkeys who have been exposed to the Ebola virus can survive 75 percent of the time after taking the AVI drug, while 100 percent lived after being exposed to Marburg. (These experiments are being done at secured U.S. Army biodefense labs, by researchers geared up in space suits, so the good folks of Corvallis, OR who live near AVI’s research and development center can rest easy that the nasty virus won’t be cut loose in the countryside.) Still, it has to give the willies to anybody who’s read Richard Preston’s book, The Hot Zone. )
AVI will have to carefully work out the next steps of development for the Ebola and Marburg drugs. After all, you can’t expose people to those viruses and see whether they live or die. More tests will be needed to demonstrate effectiveness in animals, and to show that the drug at least meets FDA safety standards in people, Boyle says. (Interestingly, Boyle said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can decide to buy a drug like this through the Project BioShield program even if it isn’t FDA-approved.)
At the end of our interview, I asked whether Hudson sees special challenges having the company based in Oregon, where there isn’t a biotechnology industry cluster. He said it’s the kind of place you’d want to have a drug manufacturing plant, but he’s looking to expand biology and chemistry R&D labs, and for that, he says he needs to tap a deeper biotech talent pool.
He’s thinking West Coast, so that means San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle would be the natural choices. He hinted that Seattle might be the pick, even though he hasn’t gotten much assistance from anybody locally. “I guess I just like coming to places with bad weather,” he joked.