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NanoBio Nabs $6M from Gates Foundation for Nasal Spray Vaccine

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

NanoBio, the Ann Arbor, MI-based developer of new vaccine formulations made to be more potent and easy to deliver, has snapped up a $6 million grant from the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The money will help fund development of the first nasal spray vaccine against one of the most common bugs that causes lung diseases like pneumonia in infants.

The company, a University of Michigan spinoff founded in 2000, secured the support to study its experimental vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This deal allows NanoBio, a for-profit company, to retain the commercial rights to this vaccine in wealthy countries, while the foundation will have access to the vaccine in the developing world.

No one has yet developed a vaccine for RSV infections, and it’s clearly one of the bugs that public health officials would love to tamp down around the world. Almost all infants get this contagious infection at least once by the age of two or three, and it causes an estimated 900,000 hospitalizations every year in the U.S. and Europe for a host of lung complications like bronchiolitis and pneumonia. The latter disease is one of the leading killers of children in sub-Saharan Africa. AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit made a fortune—$1.23 billion in 2009 to be exact—through selling palivizumab (Synagis) as an antibody treatment for RSV infections, although its nowhere near as practical as a vaccine would be in poor countries, where it would be too expensive. But that robust market makes it clear that if NanoBio can develop a vaccine, it will have an opportunity to make money in wealthy parts of the world, and to make an even bigger impact around the world with help from the Gates Foundation.

“We believe our program holds tremendous promise for addressing a number of global health challenges,” said James R. Baker, Jr., NanoBio’s Founder & CEO, in a statement.

NanoBio made waves back in mid-September, when it reported some eye-opening results of a nasal spray vaccine it has developed for seasonal flu. The study of 199 healthy adults found that NanoBio’s NB-1008, as a nasal spray, was safe and capable of triggering an immune response against the flu virus in both the bloodstream and the mucosal membranes like those that line the nose, where people usually first encounter pathogens. This two-pronged form of immunity hasn’t been shown before with conventional flu vaccines that are injected into a muscle, or with the currently available nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist).

The NanoBio approach essentially took a commercially available flu vaccine and combined it with a nanoparticle that is supposed to help it interact with so-called antigen presenting cells in the mucosal lining. These cells are known to process bits of a foreign invader, like flu, and present them to other cells to spark a vigorous immune defense.

Flu vaccines require some time-consuming and costly clinical trials, and so NanoBio’s chief operating officer, David Peralta, made clear to me that the program would require help from a deep-pocketed partner to keep advancing. But back in September, he hinted that the flu trial could really serve as a proof of concept for the nanoparticle vaccine technology, which could be applied by partners pursuing other infectious diseases—like RSV or chronic hepatitis B.

There are other approaches in the works that NanoBio will have to compete against. As I reported in these pages last month, AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit—the group that developed Synagis—recently obtained a license from Seattle-based Immune Design to an immune-boosting compound it intends to incorporate into an RSV vaccine. And Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY), a leader in RNA interference technology, is moving through clinical trials of an RNAi treatment for RSV.

NanoBio isn’t saying in today’s release how far along its RSV vaccine is in development. But if it can show promise in animal tests and the initial phase of clinical trials, it’s certainly conceivable this thing could generate interest from corporate partners, not just the Gates Foundation.

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