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One Health Resource Center

January 11, 2018
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Appili Therapeutics obtains rights to vaccine for bioterrorism agent

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The biopharmaceutical company Appili Therapeutics recently announced that it has signed a license agreement with the National Research Council of Canada to develop a vaccine for Francisella tularensis, a potential bioterrorism agent.

F. tularensis causes tularemia — a zoonotic disease that humans can contract through tick and deer fly bites, skin contact with infected animals, contaminated water, inhalation of contaminated aerosols or agricultural dusts, and laboratory exposure, according to the CDC. The agency classifies F. tularensis as a Category A pathogen that poses a high risk to national security and public health because of its potential as a bioterrorism agent. The bacterium was studied prior to and during World War II as a biological weapon, and it was evaluated for military purposes by the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, according to a press release.

Francisella tularensis is a very infectious bacteria. A small number (approximately 10 to 50 organisms) can cause tularemia disease,” Sean McBride, vice president of Business Development at Appili Therapeutics, said in the release. “If used as a weapon, the bacteria would likely be made airborne for exposure by inhalation. People who inhale an infectious aerosol would generally experience severe respiratory illness, including life-threatening pneumonia and systemic infection, if they are not treated.”

Although there are several antibiotic regimens available for post-exposure prophylaxis and treatment for tularemia, a vaccine is still being sought to protect vulnerable populations, the release said.

“If an adversary finds way to make Francisella tularensis resistant to antibiotics and uses it as an aerosolized bioweapon, the results could be devastating,” McBride said.

The Soviet Union previously developed a vaccine, known as LVS, that offers partial protection; however, it is not currently approved by the FDA, according to the release. Wayne Conlan, PhD, and colleagues at the National Research Council (NRC) have developed a new live-attenuated vaccine — ATI-1701 — that induced a strong protective immune response to F. tularensis in preclinical studies. ATI-1701 was compared with the LVS vaccine and “demonstrated dramatically superior results,” Appili Therapeutics CEO Kevin Sullivan told Infectious Disease News. He expects the vaccine will enter human clinical trials in about 3 years.

“With all the recent press of North Korea’s bioweapons programs, we are looking forward to hopefully finding a way to take this threat off the table,” he said.

The recent license agreement with NRC grants Appili Therapeutics’ exclusive rights to develop and commercialize ATI-1701 worldwide. The company said it will conduct preclinical and clinical studies that are required by the FDA for regulatory approval.

Disclosures: McBride and Sullivan are employees of Appili. Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm Conlan’s relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.