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China's President Hu Jintao Visits Virionyx

Visit to Virionyx by the President of China Mr Hu Jintao Speech Notes – Dr Shangxiao Li, Senior Scientist

President Hu / Madam Liu, Prime Minister, Distinguished Guests

Virionyx is a small biotechnology company. There are only 19 of us who are working on developing therapeutics and vaccines for infectious diseases, and possible bio-terrorism agents such as Anthrax.

About 7 years ago, we started working on a passive immunotherapy for HIV.

HIV is a very difficult disease to treat.

Although there is no doubt that the drugs that are around today are effective in controlling the progression of the disease, because the virus continually evades the drugs, and eventually patients run out of treatment options. Therefore there is an urgent need for new and novel mechanisms of action for treating the disease.

At a very early stage, our co-founder, Dr Frank Gelder, recognised that while humans were unable to mount an effective antibody response to HIV, animals, and goats in particular, were able to make powerful neutralising antibodies that attack the virus.
Our small team of scientists have worked very hard to identify those regions to the HIV virus that goats make antibodies to, and then to purify those antibodies and formulate them in such a way that they are safe to use in man. It has been, and still is, an enormous challenge.

Finally, in March 2001 we obtained approval to test the drug in man at the Harvard School of Medicine in the United States.

The first trial went very well. The patients all felt very good. Often with the current drugs they don’t. There were virtually no side-effects, and early signs of anti-viral activity. The drug is now in the next stage of clinical trials and we await these results with excitement.

Based on the good clinical safety we have shown with our HIV therapy, we have started working on other diseases for which there are no treatments. For example SARS, which behaves in a similar way to HIV and lends itself to emergency treatment with a passive immunotherapy to help sick patients get over the early stages of the disease.

What makes this so exciting is that these therapies could be available within 12 to 18 months.

There are a number of mosquito-borne viruses such as Dengue Fever and West Nile Virus that are also able to be treated by passive immunotherapy, particularly in the acute form of these diseases.

Finally, the effects of bio-terrorism agents such as Anthrax or botulism – for which there are no small molecule drugs, can also be neutralised in this way. We have specialised technology to be able to do this, without harming the animals.

Our goats are a specialised goat herd, with all having been hand reared and farmed in such a way that they are guaranteed to be disease free at all times.

Today we are going to show you our work. In this facility we have the office and laboratories, where we do the research. Our Clean Room is not located here, but you will appreciate that no-one is allowed into that. Nevertheless, our scientists have set up the displays to show you how this all works.

This programme has been built up in conjunction with a number of international collaborators, and we hope that your visit will encourage collaboration with scientists and clinicians from China in the near future.

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