Grant helps I.S.U. develop, test swine vaccine

by Bryan Salvage
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AMES, IOWA — Iowa State University researchers are receiving help in developing and evaluating a vaccine designed to protect swine from novel H1N1 and other strains of influenza thanks to a grant from a state economic development fund. The vaccine could also help protect the health of people working on hog farms.

The State Board of Regents recently approved $679,663 in competitive grants from the state's Grow Iowa Values Fund for seven new Iowa State research projects. The goal of the grants is to support development of technologies with commercial potential and to support the growth of companies using those technologies.

In 2005, Iowa lawmakers agreed to appropriate $5 million a year for 10 years to support economic development programs and research projects at Iowa's Regent universities. This is the fifth time Iowa State has awarded competitive grants from the state fund. This year's grants range from $31,426 to $146,610 for the swine vaccine project.

The research team working on the swine vaccine includes Brad Bosworth, an affiliate associate professor of animal science; Ryan Vander Veen, a doctoral student in immunobiology; and Mark Mogler, a doctoral student in veterinary microbiology. They're working with Hank Harris, a professor of animal science, and his startup company, Harrisvaccines Inc. (doing business as Sirrah Bios) at the Iowa State University Research Park, according to an I.S.U. news release

Mr. Harris said Sirrah Bios has licensed a vaccine technology that relies on molecular biology rather than the traditional method of growing, killing and processing a virus. The researchers take a backbone or vector virus, remove components from it and replace those with genes from the targeted virus. The resulting replicon particle and replicon subunit vaccines trigger an immune response against the disease.

A strength of the technology is its ability to rapidly turn around a new vaccine in response to an outbreak, Mr. Bosworth said. "That's really important for the flu," he added. "Flu strains change a lot. And this technology can quickly respond to those changes."

Researchers have found the technology effectively protects pigs from the H3N2 flu virus, Mr. Vander Veen said. The Grow Iowa Values Fund grant will allow the researchers to test the technology against other strains.

"We've got to make sure this protects pigs," Mr. Harris said. "And we have to determine the effective dose to protect pigs."

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