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Research Collaboration For , Sars, West Nile Virus


New Zealand biopharmaceutical company Virionyx partners with US organisations to develop drugs & antibody preparations

Manukau City, Auckland, August 1, 2003 – Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Helen Clark, announced today that New Zealand biopharmaceutical company Virionyx is partnering with two United States organisations to develop antibody and antiviral treatments for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and other infectious agents such as West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever and against possible bio-terrorist threats such as smallpox, anthrax, plague, tularemia and botulism.

Virionyx’s Chairman, Peter Sullivan, said his company had been approached by the prestigious Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and ZeptoMetrix Corporation, a leader in the field of viral diagnostics, to take part in a project which had the potential to deliver significant humanitarian benefits at a time when governments around the world are faced with providing novel therapies to protect their citizens in uncertain times.

The central US government research agency, the National Institute of Health, has called for research grants including a passive immunotherapy treatment for SARS, the US Federal Drug Agency has called for help with antitoxins for anthrax and the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for help across many emerging infections.

Virionyx, with its US partners, will be able to manufacture these potential immunotherapy products for testing in the US or elsewhere.

Commenting, Dr Arie Geursen, Chief Operating Officer, Virionyx, said, “This collaboration is an honour for us. The unique but complementary skills and expertise that each party brings to the collaboration makes this an exciting scientific and business opportunity not only for Virionyx but also for New Zealand.”

Dr Geursen said that various viral infections such as Dengue Fever presented comparable opportunities.

“This fever, sometimes fatal, causes epidemics in South East Asia, China and now the Pacific and Caribbean. There is no effective vaccine. The virus, carried by mosquitoes, causes a dangerous high fever, which can lead to bleeding, shock and even death. Tens of millions of cases occur each year.

“All treatment is supportive, but it is established that antibodies which develop in patients halt the disease. However, these antibodies take time to develop and the disease can progress too far by that time. In emergencies, a passive immunotherapy treatment could provide a bridge.”

He said there are opportunities for Virionyx and for New Zealand to become involved in this area of emergency treatment for these dangerous infections and for possible bio-terrorism threats, using the company’s current processes and the New Zealand environment.

Currently, there is no way to test for the presence of SARS virus in patients and there is no treatment for this deadly disease. The WHO believes that the virus is likely to flare up again in the Northern Hemisphere winter, following the seasonal pattern of cold and flu viruses.

“While the world needs to be prepared if there is a next time for SARS, we must also effectively fight these other infectious agents such as West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever and be in a state of preparedness against possible future bio-terrorism threats that might come in the form of smallpox, anthrax, plague, tularemia and botulism.”

Dr Geursen said that passive immunotherapy was not the optimal treatment for most of these infections but could be held as inventory and used for emergency treatment in people who get infected, or are poisoned and require intervention.

Virionyx will use its proprietary platform technology (from which its first therapeutic, PEHRG214, a passive immunotherapy for HIV, was designed)
to immunise goats from its specialised and quarantined herds.

Goats do not get sick and die from these infectious agents. On the contrary, their bodies will produce antibodies to fight the viruses. Virionyx will purify these antibodies for potential tests in humans, formulating them so they can be used to treat patients with viral infections.

For further information about Virionyx, visit


Notes to editors

Virionyx Corporation Limited is a biopharmaceutical product development company. The company, based in Manukau City, Auckland, is engaged in the development of therapeutics and vaccines against infectious diseases using a proprietary platform technology from which its first therapeutic, PEHRG214, a passive immunotherapy for HIV, was designed.

In March 2002, Virionyx completed a US Federal Drug Agency (FDA) approved Phase I clinical trial of PEHRG214 at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA and in November 2002 Virionyx commenced a multi-dose Phase I/II clinical trial of this product at Harvard Medical School where 40 HIV patients are currently receiving treatment.

PEHRG214 is an antibody preparation that has been developed at Virionyx in a project lead by Dr Frank Gelder, inventor and a co-founding director of the company. PEHRG214 was one of the first New Zealand developed biotherapeutics to receive US Federal Drug Agency (FDA) clearance for clinical trials in the United States.

Founded in 1956, the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI) is an independent, non-profit biomedical research facility specialising in structural biology and the use of x-ray crystallography. Headed by Nobel prize-winning scientist Dr Herbert Hauptman, the Institute is located in Buffalo, New York Sate. Hauptman-Woodward has a proven record of accomplishment in the areas of structural studies including development of methods for crystal structure determination, methods for high throughput robotic protein crystal screening, and methods for cloning and expression of proteins in yeast, bacteria, mammalian or insect cells. The Institute is currently home to the Buffalo University’s Structural Biology Department and the NASA Institute for Structural Biology.

ZeptoMetrix is a fully integrated biotechnology company located in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus near the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute. ZeptoMetrix (formerly Cellular Products Inc) was one of the first companies to develop FDA approved blood screening kits for HIV and HTLV and is a worldwide expert in the handling of infectious agents.

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