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April 20, 2010 - $2.8 Million Grant to Fund Hepatitis C Vaccine Research

April 20, 2010

Drexel University College of Medicine, in collaboration with University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Cheyney University, and Inovio Biomedical Corporation, will receive $2.8 million over four years from the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) competitive grant program funded through Pennsylvania's share of the 2009-2010 national tobacco settlement.

Funds will be used to conduct pre-clinical studies to test the safety and effect on the immune system of a DNA-based vaccine that is designed to treat persons who are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and have not responded to currently available therapies. People with chronic HCV infection face an increased risk of developing hepatocellular cancer, a difficult-to-treat cancer with a poor prognosis. Researchers expect that developing a vaccine to better treat HCV will ultimately lead to a reduction in hepatocellular cancer.

To create a diverse applicant pool for high-level research positions, a research training program for students and faculty from Cheyney University will also be established through this grant.

Jeffrey M. Jacobson, MD, will serve as the principal investigator for the grant. Jacobson is a professor and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases & HIV Medicine. Jacobson has extensive knowledge and experience in the treatment of HCV. Jacobson will manage the collaborative effort and be responsible for the oversight and future direction of the program as the team aims to move this DNA vaccine platform to the clinic.

Michele A. Kutzler, PhD, will serve as co-investigator for the grant. Kutzler is an assistant professor and received her postdoctoral training in the laboratory of David Weiner, PhD, at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, a pioneering lab in the area of DNA vaccines. She is an accomplished basic investigator who carries out highly-translational research in the area of immunology and vaccinology, focusing on non-live, non-viral vectors for immune therapies against infectious pathogens with an emphasis on mucosal immune responses.

Working with Jacobson and Kutzler are Seth Welles, PhD, of Drexel University’s School of Public Health; Weiner of University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; Sakkar Eva, PhD, and Abdel Bior, PhD, of Cheyney University; and Niranjan Sardesai, PhD, of Inovio Biomedical Corporation.