RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — AlphaVax is becoming a more and more important ally in the United States’ war to deal with potential bioterror attacks.

The RTP firm disclosed early Monday morning that it has received two more federal grants to develop vaccines against botulinum neurotoxins and equine encephalomyelitis. Botulinum is a bacterium related to botulism, which is severe and often fatal food poisoning caused by the ingestion of botulin. Encephalomyelitis is is inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

The two grants total $16.6 million over the next 4 ½ years, according to AlphaVax. Of the total, $9.1 million is geared toward botulinum research and the remainder for the encephalomyelitis, which can affect humans as well as horses.

AlphaVax received a $6 million grant in 2002 for a vaccine against Marburg virus. The federal Centers for Disease Control defines Marburg as “a rare, severe type of hemorrhagic fever which affects both humans and non-human primates.” it is caused through an animal-borne RNA virus of the so-called filovirus family, which includes Ebola.

“We are very pleased and proud to receive these important grants and to expand our relationship with USAMRIID,” said Peter Young, president and chief executive officer of AlphaVax in a statement. “Not only do these awards allow us to contribute to the biodefense effort, they demonstrate the breadth of our vaccine technology’s potential.”

AlphaVax will be working with the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, MD. The USAMIID is the lead medical research lab in the US Biological Defense Research Program.
AlphaVax, which now employs 43 people, uses technology developed by the USAMRIID and UNC Chapel Hill. It is called ArV.

Alphavax creates its vaccines by using a modified horse virus to deliver a gene the researchers believe will interact well with the immune system to provoke a strong response and injects that rather than weak or dead viruses.

AlphaVax, which has raised more than $40 million in venture financing and through grants, also is exploring an HIV vaccine. It is now in Phase I trials.