Pfenex receives contract for new malaria vaccine

Pfenex, a San Diego-based company that specializes in the creation of proteins for the pharmaceutical industry, recently received a $3.1 million contract from the Science Applications International Corporation to develop a new malaria vaccine.

Patrick Lucy, vice president of business development for the privately-held Pfenex, said that the company will use a special kind of bacteria to mass produce an antigen that is derived from the mosquito-borne virus that is the key ingredient in the vaccine, according to SignOnSanDiego.com.

The SAIC, based in McLean, Virginia, is developing the disease for the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It has a $62.4 million contract with NIAID.

Vaccine antigens are the pieces of a virus that produce an immune response in humans when they are brought into the body. A vaccine is considered successful if that immune response produces enough antibodies to act as a shield against infections.

Until now, antigens used to make experimental malaria vaccines have not produced the kind of immune response that can provide long-lasting protection from the virus.

Animal tests conducted by the SAIC suggest that the protein might work in humans, Lucy told SignOnSanDiego.com. It has been difficult, however, to produce them in large enough quantities.

Pfenex is in the process of overcoming that hurdle by inserting a gene into the company’s special bacteria that causes it to produce the vaccine molecules. The company’s work with the protein should clear the way for the SAIC to begin human testing.