Arbovax, a startup developing technology designed to help produce vaccines against insect-borne viruses, has closed on $1.43 million in first round funding.

The money will be used for research to help advance its technology toward Phase I clinical trials in mammals and add some additional staff, according to company co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Thomas. Arbovax currently employs four people.

Also investing in Arbovax were the Research Development Foundation and Mario Family Partners.

Arbovax’s initial target is dengue fever virus, and Thomas said in an interview that research “has been moving ahead quite fast.” The next phase of work will include testing in a mouse model. “That’s a big benchmark for us,” he added.

Combating dengue fever is a global problem with as many as 120 million cases reported a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, no dengue vaccine is available and an “effective” vaccine is not expected “for five to 10 years.”

“Prospects for reversing the recent trend of increased epidemic activity and geographic expansion of dengue are not promising,” the CDC warns on its Web site.

Arbovax is advancing technology developed by Dennis Brown and Raquel Hernandez , who are professors at N.C. State. Both are consultants with the company.

The firm’s technology also could be used to combat Japanese Encephalitis, West Nile Virus and Yellow Fever and a viral disease called Chikungunya.

“We like to say that we are developing technology that can produce vaccines,” Thomas said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”
Arbovax will look to partner with a major vaccine producer such as Novartis or GlaxoSmithKline should its technology produce an effective product.

If research continues to hit benchmarks the firm will start raising a second round of funding this fall Thomas added. “We’re probably six months ahead of schedule,” he added but noted that approval for a vaccine is several years away. “You can’t rush human vaccines,” Thomas said.

Thomas and John Lawrie incorporated the company in 2005. Both have strong connections with the Triangle biotech and pharmaceutical industry. Lawrie is a former CEO of Stemco (now called Aldagen) and also worked at Becton Dickinson. Thomas was a vice president at Stemco after working with Bayer Biologicals (now Talecris), a startup in California, and Becton Dickinson.