September 9, 2013
by Rachel Griess
Dr. Ian Orme, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology at Colorado State University, is collaborating with Colorado-based biopharmaceutical company GlobeImmune to create a new type of immunotherapeutic vaccine designed to prevent and treat tuberculosis.
The four-year research project is supported with a $4 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, a division of the National Institutes of Health, and for the first time will use the company’s Tarmogen immunotherapy platform to fight tuberculosis. Tarmogen therapies are designed using genetically modified yeast and activate specific disease-fighting T cells.
Scientists hope the new therapeutic vaccines can be used to treat active tuberculosis infections. That would put CSU’s globally respected Mycobacteria Research Laboratories, Orme’s home base, one step closer to finding a cure for the estimated 1.4 million people who contract tuberculosis each year.
“Tarmogen products have been shown to generate a unique T cell immune response that appears to be critical in the control of pathogens like tuberculosis,” Orme said. “Nothing like this has ever been done before in TB mycobacteria research. We are hoping to generate a more potent immune response than we’ve seen in the past.”
The collaboration between Orme and GlobeImmune, based in Littleton, represents the scientific quest to battle an infectious respiratory disease that has significantly declined in the United States but remains a serious global health concern, especially in the world’s poorest countries. An estimated one-third of the global population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis – a health crisis that came into sharp focus this summer, when former South African President Nelson Mandela was hospitalized for chronic tuberculosis-related lung infection.
The investigation led by Orme and GlobeImmune uses the company’s proprietary Tarmogen platform, an approach designed to stimulate cellular immunity.
“A more potent immune response could be a highly effective strategy for targeting this disease using new vaccines,” Orme said. “We badly need new strategies given the disappointing results from a recent major clinical trial. By triggering new immune pathways with these innovative vaccines, we may be able to develop far more effective vaccines.”
The CSU Department of Microbiology, Immunology ,and Pathology is home to the country’s largest tuberculosis research group, comprising about 170 scientists and students dedicated to mycobacterial disease and pathogen research. Orme’s research has focused on how tuberculosis impacts the body’s immune response, as well as using unique models to develop vaccines to treat and prevent tuberculosis.