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UQ's Professor Ian Frazer
UQ's Professor Ian Frazer

Since 2000 a University of Queensland (UQ) spin off company, Admedus Vaccines has been developing vaccines to transform global health issues. Under the guidance of Professor Ian Frazer, the co-inventor of the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine, Admedus Vaccines is now focused on a technology for improving immune responses to DNA vaccines and its application as a therapeutic vaccine for the herpes simplex virus (HSV-2).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates approximately half a billion people aged 15–49 years worldwide have this virus that causes genital herpes. The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact and can have serious health implications for babies born to infected women and is also believed to contribute to the development of HIV.

While medication can help manage symptoms, there is no cure. For some ten years, Admedus Vaccines has been focused on designing the HSV-2 vaccine using its patented platform technology. The vaccine being developed works by introducing a small sequence of DNA that uses the body’s cells to produce a protein which primes the immune system against HSV-2.

The Admedus vaccine therapy will give rise to antibodies that neutralise viruses like conventional vaccines. In addition, the technology aims to also introduce a strong T-cell response that mops up any virus that manages to get through the antibody net and infect the cell. According to Professor Frazer, “it generates killer T-cells, which kill infected cells and also makes antibodies for protection”.

Interim results of the Phase I clinical trial announced in 2014 are very encouraging, with the vaccine stimulating trial participants’ immune systems with no major side effects identified. Admedus Vaccines remains a private unlisted company, using this patented technology to develop DNA vaccines licensed by UniQuest Pty Ltd and developed at UQ. The HSV-2 vaccine has enormous commercial potential, with the market for a successful vaccine being assessed at over $1.0B per annum.