02.27.12

Ricin vaccine orphaned

Posted in Bioterrorism, Ricin Kooks at 12:02 pm by George Smith

Today, from the newspaper of Denton, TX, a story mentioning how the ricin vaccine fell in and out of favor.

Readers of the blog know it as the always coming but never arriving product of Soligenix, a now near worthless company from the old Alliance for Biosecurity. DD blog last mentioned the firm here.

Before 9/11 there was virtually no interest in a ricin vaccine. The main reason for this is that no one actually needs such a thing except those who research ricin, or the few weird crazies every year who pound castor seeds.

However, after 9/11 and anthrax, funding for bioterror research and nostrums to be used against all the diseases and toxins said to be about to descend upon us exploded.

Over ten years on, with little to show for any of it, some of the research and firms involved have hit a brick wall. Some, although not all, are out of favor. Budgets are busted and the country often has other newer problems to spend money on.

The ricin vaccine came out of research into using the toxin in targeted chemotherapy against certain cancers. And the interesting part is excerpted:

Less than a half-hour drive down the freeway from Sellers’ oncology treatments, researchers at the Cancer Immunology Center in Dallas search for a cure for cancer. Despite the physical proximity, Sellers and other chemotherapy patients are more than a decade displaced from the work of researchers down the road.

As professor and researcher, Dr. Ellen Vitetta, the immunology center’s director, has worked to discover new treatments for an array of incurable diseases for more than three decades. In 2000, after more than a decade of research to genetically engineer and modify a toxin to target tumor cells, her team realized the cancer research had brought them to the doorstep of a vaccine for something else — ricin, an extremely toxic protein found in the castor bean.

While continuing the tumor-targeting research, Vitetta’s team hoped government interest in the vaccine would lead to an increase in grant money that could be applied toward the lab’s primary goal of cancer research. For a while, it did.

But after 12 years, numerous papers and two clinical trials, both the vaccine and the cancer treatments that inspired it sit on freezer shelves in the Dallas lab — a sort of purgatory for promising research that falls out of favor, Vitetta says.

“If I can’t get money for [the research] and I can’t get money for the trials, there’s no choice but to hang it up and let it sit until it comes back into vogue again,” she says.

In the freezer room at Vitetta’s lab, half a dozen 6-foot-tall freezers sit side by side, housing decades of unfunded work at 80 degrees below zero, hoping at some point in the future to be resuscitated. Some drugs, like the poison vaccine, show promise in clinical trials but become victims of federal funding cuts that leave the center no choice but to consign them to the freezer …

Vitetta licensed production of ricin vaccine to DOR BioPharma, now Soligenix. Readers know that in over a decade Soligenix hasn’t brought a single thing to market. And now the company is virtually in the toilet.

Live by the fad funding and hype that runs the bioterror defense industry, die by it.

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