Rational Vaccines (RVx), a new biotechnology start-up, aims to stop the spread of herpes and improve treatment options for millions of people who live with recurrent herpetic disease.
Based on 20 years of preclinical studies, RVx has developed a new class of rationally engineered live vaccines that may safely and effectively prevent the spread of herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2).
Leading this groundbreaking effort is Chief Science Officer William Halford, PhD, an Associate Professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Dr Halford has been studying the molecular virology and immunology of HSV for the past 20 years, winning awards for his teaching and research.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2. About four billion people, including 150 million Americans, are infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2, and about three million Americans live with genital herpes symptoms that recur 3–30 days per month. Many herpes patients suffer in silence, never telling friends or family why they are depressed and withdrawn.
“I’ve talked to hundreds of herpes sufferers who say genital herpes has destroyed their lives, and left them isolated. Making matters worse, many doctors tell patients that herpes is no big deal,” Dr Halford said. “But here is the truth. Herpes is a major cause of blindness, neonatal mortality, life-threatening encephalitis and, aside from emotional isolation and pain, leaves genital herpes sufferers three times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS. This is a major global health issue, and the time to act is now.”
RVx is offering the world a fundamentally new solution to the age-old herpes problem in the form of a new class of live HSV-1 and HSV-2 ICP0(-) mutant vaccines. Dr Halford’s 10 years of preclinical studies detail how and why these rationally-engineered live HSV vaccines are safe and far more effective than past herpes vaccine concepts.
“The safety of live HSV ICP0(-) mutant vaccines is far better understood than any live viral vaccine currently administered to children, such as the MMR vaccine,” Dr Halford said. “These live HSV vaccines establish a self-limited infection at the immunization site that quickly resolves and leaves the body’s immune system prepared to fight off real HSV-1 or HSV-2 viruses.”
With venture capital funding, RVx has developed the infrastructure to run a Phase I Clinical Trial of its new Theravax (HSV-2) vaccine. This therapeutic HSV-2 vaccine candidate will be evaluated in genital herpes sufferers to verify its safety and explore its potential to help sufferers achieve better immune control of HSV-2 and fewer herpes outbreaks.
The Profavax (HSV-2) vaccine is another product that RVx is developing, which holds the potential to protect vulnerable individuals in HSV-discordant relationships from contracting genital herpes. The Profavax (HSV-2) vaccine looks like the real virus and works about 100 times better than HSV-2 subunit vaccines in preclinical studies.
RVx CEO Agustin Fernandez said: “Too many people have suffered in silence for far too long while a parade of ‘promising’ herpes subunit vaccines have been constantly failing in US clinical trials. When one plan of attack fails three times in a row, it’s time to develop a new approach. With our technology, RVx will deliver on the long-overdue promise of a vaccine that can end the herpes epidemic once and for all.”
In another step towards addressing the problem, RVx has developed a herpes antibody test that measures Antibody Binding to Virus-Infected Cells (ABVIC). It is anticipated this test will provide doctors with a powerful, new tool to help determine if a patient’s genital herpes is caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2.