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Denver Startup Touts Yeast Therapy for AIDS

April 5, 2002

Beginning this summer, the Denver-based biotech startup GlobeImmune will test a novel new approach to AIDS treatment. "We're using yeast -- it's the same stuff that's in bread and beer -- and we're going to inject it into people," said Richard Duke, company chairperson and founder. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is paying for a six-month nationwide clinical trial of 81 patients.

The trial will put on the line decades of research by Duke and fellow former University of Colorado scientists Donald Bellgrau and Alex Franzusoff. They first published a paper on their idea in May (Nature Medicine;7;5:625-629).

GlobeImmune will inject the yeast, engineered with a bit of DNA from HIV, into patients. The yeast attracts a certain kind of cell that is very good at alerting the immune system's killer T-cells, which can recognize the HIV protein and destroy similarly infected cells. Other HIV vaccines have relied on antibodies to fight the virus, but that approach simply neutralizes the virus, Duke said. "Killer T-cells stop the ones that have already been infected," Duke said. "If you destroy the factory, then the virus can't work anymore."

As HIV infection progresses, patients' immune systems often do not quickly recognize and neutralize opportunistic infections. GlobeImmune's therapy would tell the patient's immune system that cells are infected. Duke said he hopes the simplicity of the vaccine would allow poor people in Africa to make their own "like beer."

The approach has intrigued the science community: it was selected as an Editor's Choice for immunology in Science magazine in June, and it piqued the interest of the NIH. Without the NIH, GlobeImmune would not have been able to pay the $30,000-per-patient cost of the trial. Now the company, which conducted tests on mice and monkeys, will conduct its first trials on friends and partners of people with HIV to ensure the vaccine's safety. In the second phase, which should begin by the end of the year, it will test the vaccine on HIV patients themselves. The company eventually hopes to use the approach to treat cancer and other diseases.

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Excerpted from:
Denver Post
04.03.02; Jennifer Beauprez

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