Vaccine technology developed by OHSU researchers acquired by industry

Louis Picker, M.D., of the OSHU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. (OHSU/Boone Speed Photography)
Louis Picker, M.D., of the OSHU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. (OHSU/Boone Speed Photography)

OHSU researchers made international headlines in 2013 when they published findings that their HIV vaccine not only controlled SIV, the nonhuman primate form of HIV, but cleared it in nearly 60 percent of the monkeys in the trial.

The HIV vaccine—developed by of a team of scientists at the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute that includes Jay Nelson, Ph.D.; Klaus Frueh, Ph.D.; Scott Hansen, Ph.D.; and Louis J. Picker, M.D.—has shown such promise in pre-clinical trials that it is headed to phase 1 human clinical trials next year.

The vaccine platform is based on a unique model that uses the common herpes virus cytomegalovirus, or CMV, as the viral vaccine vector to deliver a knock-out blow to the various pathogens. Importantly, this platform is not limited to fighting HIV. It has the real potential to fight the world’s deadliest diseases, from tuberculosis and hepatitis B to malaria and papillomavirus.

The technology has now been acquired by Vir Biotechnology, a San Francisco-based biotech startup backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and ARCH Venture Partners. The deal involves Vir buying TomegaVax Inc., an OHSU spinoff that holds the rights to the vaccine technology. This is a taken a critical step in translating a basic science concept pioneered at OHSU into a portfolio of commercial vaccines.

Research at VGTI was first made possible through a state-funded Oregon Opportunity Grant. The research has since been funded primarily through grants from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed $46 million in grants to support Picker’s work at VGTI.