Grant helps firm devise way to combat biowarefare
By Barbara Smith/Business Writer
Scientists at a leading biotechnology company headquartered in Vacaville are busy working on biowarfare defense initiatives for the United States.
Large Scale Biology Corp. has received a $1 million federal grant from the Biowarfare Defense Research Program to expand the company's participation in national biowarfare defense. The funding will be used to develop more effective products for prevention and treatment of biowarfare-related illnesses.
On Aug. 5, President Bush signed legislation into law that funds key Department of Defense initiatives, including $1 million for the company to employ its proprietary GRAMMR (Genetic ReAssortment by MisMatch Resolution) DNA shuffling and molecular evolution technology to develop more effective biopharmaceuticals for protecting military personnel and civilians in biowarfare situations.
GRAMMR is Large Scale Biology's technology invented and developed in Vacaville, said Hal Padgett, principal investigator for the program.
"GRAMMR allows us to breed genes with one another in order to obtain new and novel biological activity," Padgett said. "We've gotten enthusiastic response from our military clients.
"The capabilities that GRAMMR presents allows them to do things they are currently unable to do."
Padgett said there are certain biological agents that are of concern to the Department of Defense, and Large Scale is providing materials for them to screen against those agents.
"We're not working with any of those agents in Vacaville," Padgett cautioned. "We're just providing materials for them to screen, and we ship those to the biodefense facilities in Fort Detrick."
Large Scale Biology is under contract with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick. Fort Detrick is the U.S. biodefense headquarters where there is the Level 4 containment facilities for viruses such as Ebola.
"We are evolving novel therapeutics to combat those agents," Padgett said. "We're doing this in our efforts to augment the native human immune system."
There are many biological agents the Department of Defense is interested in screening against, Padgett said.
"We take candidate genes, breed them together, and produce the proteins that correspond to these hybrid genes," he said. "We are evolving these genes for greater activity."
Padgett said biowarfare agents the Department of Defense would be concerned with include the Ebola virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, SARS, and Hantavirus, among others.
He said confidentiality prohibits him from specifying what Large Scale is addressing at this time.
Large Scale is contributing two of its core technologies to this program, including the Company's GRAMMR directed evolution technology and its plant-based biomanufacturing system, which can be used together to rapidly optimize and produce therapeutic proteins and vaccines.
"What we are doing with our GRAMMR technology in combination with our GENEWARE plant based manufacturing technology is something that other companies cannot approach, cannot do," Padgett said. "They really don't have the combination of the two - making the hybrid genes and producing the corresponding proteins - which is important. We have both sides of that equation.
"This is something we are uniquely positioned to do. That's not a stretch," he said.
Large Scale credits Congressman George Miller for his support and successful sponsorship to enable the company to make important contributions to national defense needs.
"Congressman Miller has put us in contact with the military researchers with the needs for our technologies, and he's made it possible for us to work with them to our mutual benefit," Padgett said.
Large Scale Biology is making an important contribution toward protecting America's armed forces in the battlefield, Miller said in a prepared statement.
"Biological warfare is an unfortunate but real threat and we must be prepared for it," he said.
Barbara Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
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