UND researchers explore promising antibody technologies

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UND researchers explore promising antibody technologies

With the help of state, federal and private funding, University of North Dakota researchers are doing more than they'd first anticipated on the front lines of a battle with some of the world's nastiest infectious diseases.

And they're doing it by teaming with a couple of excellent allies: Avianax and NovaDigm Therapeutics, two private sector companies that specialize in finding possible treatments.

In 2010, UND researchers were awarded a $2.9 million competitive grant from the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) to study the use of avian antibodies as a treatment for emerging and existing viral diseases, including West Nile.

To tackle the project, a successful and productive research team was put together that included David Bradley, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and a principal investigator; and graduate students and technicians from UND's School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Then they got right to work. They eventually determined that geese, like other waterfowl but unlike other avian species, produce special antibodies that aren't recognized by mammalian receptors.

"In other words, using these antibodies in mammalian species would not result in a possible adverse reaction that could be fatal. This was a tremendous discovery," he continued.

Therapeutic and preventive

"From there, we developed a method for producing these antibodies in goose eggs," Bradley said. "We harvested the antibodies and then tested them in the laboratory and in animal models. We determined that these antibodies were not only therapeutic but also prophylactic — that is, preventive — when treating viruses such as West Nile, Dengue fever, rabies, hantavirus, arena and influenza.

"But most amazing of all, there could also be a possible treatment for malaria and cancer," Bradley said. "It is truly astounding. We went from a 'one-hit wonder,' that is, a possible cure for West Nile virus, to a full-blown platform technology, or a mechanism to treat many diseases."

The research was backed by Avianax, a public/private partnership between Intraglobal Biologics, Inc., the UND Research Foundation, and SMHS. Since its creation in 2006, Avianax has been developing an innovative, cost-effective, multi-use platform technology that can be used as a therapeutic treatment, as well as a preventive treatment, for emerging viral and bacterial infections, toxins and bioterrorism pathogens.

"What they're doing is truly unique," said Bruce Gjovig, director of the UND Center for Innovation, which has been working closely with Avianax on its business development. "Their antibodies are capable of treating birds, animals, and, hopefully, humans. Their science is that fabulous, that unique.

"They're still proving things out," said Gjovig, "but the end game is to obtain contracts from various government agencies to add antibodies to not only the National Veterinary Stockpile for poultry and animal use but also the Strategic National Stockpile for human diseases. And to fight bioterrorism threats to our military as well as provide new treatments for existing and emerging diseases."

Research partners

Avianax is housed in the UND Research Foundation's REAC 1 facility on the west end of the campus.

Bradley and other researchers of infectious diseases also collaborate with NovaDigm Therapeutics, another tenant in REAC 1.

NovaDigm was founded in 2005 by six National Institutes of Health-funded academic scientists from the Division of Infectious Diseases at Harbor-University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center. The company is developing a vaccine that targets both candida and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, which have been linked to thousands of deaths and hospital bills totaling $4 billion each year.

Tuomas Holmberg, NovaDigm vice president, said a discussion a few years ago with a group of researchers in Fargo led to the company's involvement in REAC 1.

"There is a push out there right now to put infrastructure in areas that don't typically have it," Holmberg said. "What makes the REAC 1 and North Dakota stand out for us is their passion and the vision. It's something we don't see as greatly in states on either coast."

University Relations Staff

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