Dutch biotechnology company Crucell has announced a new project aimed at developing a vaccine for West Nile virus, a flu-like illness that can cause a brain infection with a mortality rate of 1 per cent.
The project is interesting in that it targets a disease with no current vaccine and which is gradually spreading throughout the western world, but it also marks a significant departure for Crucell. This is among the first vaccines that the company will develop and market under its own banner, rather than relying on royalties from partners relating to the use of its PER.C6 cell line for vaccine production.
The move which reflects the prevailing sentiment that technology platform companies should make the transition to in-house product development in order to ensure their long-term success.
In recent years, West Nile virus has spread from its ancestral homes in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East and emerged in temperate regions of North America and Europe. Ordinarily it is carried by birds and spread to humans by mosquitoes, but can also be transmitted to humans through blood donations, organ transplants and breast-feeding.
Crucell has conducted preclinical studies using a goose model which showed that its vaccine candidate could provide protection after lethal challenge with the virus. "We demonstrated that a PER.C6-based vaccine protects against the Israel 1998 goose strain of West Nile virus," said Jaap Goudsmit, Crucell's chief scientific officer.
He went on to note that this strain is closely related to the NY99 strain which caused a West Nile outbreak in the USA, and this triggered the company's decision to invest in development of a West Nile vaccine for humans. Crucell said it intends to announce clinical development timelines for the product later this year.
Crucell existing PER.C6 licensees include Merck & Co for its HIV vaccine, as well as Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and Aventis. Crucell has also partnered with the US National Institutes of Health for the development of an Ebola vaccine.