By Emily Greenhalgh
PBN Web Editor
PROVIDENCE – EpiVax Inc. has been awarded a $1.5 million small business innovation research grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes, and Digestive and Kidney Disease, the company announced Monday.
The Phase II grant will fund EpiVax’s continued research on the formulation, dose, route and delivery vehicle of Tregitopes – a set of peptides that suppress autoimmune disease, allergies and the immunogenicity of co-administered proteins.
Tregitopes, which were discovered in 2008 by EpiVax founder and CEO Dr. Anne S. De Groot and the company’s COO William Martin, act as a natural “off switch” in animal models and appear to reset the immune response away from autoimmunity and towards tolerance, normalizing blood sugar levels.
The company expects the first target for Tregitope therapy to be Type I diabetes.
“It’s great to see the NIH support EpiVax’s approach, as this therapy may have the potential to reduce the harmful immune responses to the insulin-producing beta cells, thereby preserving the body’s ability to make its own insulin,” said Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Assistant Vice President Julia Greenstein.
The Providence-based biotechnology company received an original, Phase I grant in 2008 and used the funds to explore how Tregitopes could explain the effectiveness of a leading autoimmune treatment.
EpiVax expects to receive an additional $775,000 grant within the next few months, bringing the company’s 2012 grant total to $2.25 million.
“The endorsement and more so the continued funding by the National Institutes of Health of EpiVax’s Tregitope program, is further validation of the promising research pioneered by Dr. De Groot and her colleagues and collaborators,” Richard Horan, managing director for the Slater Technology Fund, said in prepared remarks.
“In addition to generating a return on the fund’s investment, the company has generated over a decade of high-value, high-wage jobs funded by steadily-increasing grants and contracts with pharmaceutical and biotech companies,” Horan added.
NIH and Foundation funding for Tregitope research at EpiVax amounts to more than $3.5M over the past four years.