Editor’s note: Jim Shamp, director of public relations for the N.C. Biotechnology Center, reached out to The Wall Street Journal after a recent story warned that the deadly “chikungunya” virus is headed for the U.S. A Raleigh firm – Arbovax – could have a solution, he said. He’s frustrated that national media isn’t reporting on what Arbovax is doing. WRALTechWire suggested that he write a blog about what occurred. He did. We reprint it in full.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The attack of the chikungunya ogre could augur well for Arbovax.

Say that three times fast. Then tell somebody I told you so.

Chikungunya (pronounced chicken-GOON-ya) is a mosquito-borne African virus that causes debilitating illness in humans. Arbovax is a Raleigh biotech company developing a vaccine to stop it.

It, plus about 200 other nasty skeeter-carried viruses, including dengue fever and West Nile.

Sadly for United States citizens, chikungunya, West Nile and dengue are all moving onto our shores and across our borders with increasing ferocity. These invasions have been the subject of numerous news stories in the national media recently, including a major alert by Wall Street Journal reporter Cameron McWhirter just in the past week.

Sadly for North Carolina citizens, this report, like most, included no mention of the amazing platform technology spun out of North Carolina State University by Arbovax – an approach that offers significant promise to tackle these major health threats.

The non-profit state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center has provided funding and other support to Arbovax. NCBiotech has also published numerous stories about it on its website. Still, this young company with global significance is routinely overlooked by the national press.

Maybe Arbovax CEO Malcolm Thomas’ phone isn’t ringing because Arbovax is still a privately held company, so the chikungunya invasion in the Caribbean is only dropping people, not raising stock prices.

But the fact remains, Arbovax deserves attention. There is no other vaccine or cure for these diseases.

As McWhirter reported in the Wall Street Journal article, “Officials in Florida, Louisiana and as far north as New Jersey are preparing for potential outbreaks. The mosquito abatement district of Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish, north of New Orleans, has budgeted funds for extra mosquito spray, airplanes and helicopters, and plans to coordinate volunteers who, in the event of an outbreak, will go door-to-door to search for mosquito breeding areas in open pools of water.”

The Pan American Health Organization, a regional division of the World Health Organization, reported 2,238 cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean by Feb. 21– from Martinique to the British Virgin Islands. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published warnings to health care providers to watch for patients showing symptoms. Those include fever, nausea, rashes and sometimes extremely painful joints and headaches.

Some more funding support for Arbovax, along with accelerated review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, could be much less expensive and far more useful than aerial spraying of thousands of acres of wetlands.

These virus-laden mosquitoes are coming to a yard near you. It bugs me that the Arbovax story isn’t going viral.

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center