News Article

Congratulations to Dr. Robert Welliver and Dr. Tom Oomens on their NIH Grant!
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Featured firm in this article: Heartland Vaccines LLC of Stillwater, OK

Drs. Welliver and Oomens have been awarded a Phase I STTR grant totaling $267,672 for the "Development of an M Protein-Deficient Respiratory Syncytial Virus Vaccine for Aerosolized Vaccination of the Lung." According to the NIH website, a key objective of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants is to translate promising technologies to the private sector and enable life-saving innovations to reach consumer markets. This grant will facilitate the efforts of OCRID investigators to move bench research to bedside and marketplace.

Dr. Welliver is a mentor of OCRID and Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Dr. Oomens is a Phase I project leader of OCRID and an Associate Professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University. OCRID brought Dr. Welliver, a clinician scientist and Dr. Oomens, a basic scientist together for a productive collaboration.

The project involves development of a vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV infection of the lung is the most frequent reason for an infant to be hospitalized in the US and most other countries. It causes approximately 150,000 deaths in children worldwide annually, and about 15,000 deaths in elderly individuals in the US each year. RSV infection in infancy is also a risk factor for the development of childhood asthma. Despite this, there is no approved vaccine against RSV, and no effective antiviral therapy.

Dr. Welliver and Oomens have developed a novel vaccine "Mnull RSV" (first produced by Dr. Oomens with the OCRID-CoBRE support) that protects animal models against RSV infection for at least 4-6 months, which is the length of an RSV season. The vaccine works best when it is delivered directly to the lung. The goal of the STTR grant is to demonstrate that the vaccine can be protective when administered via commercial nebulizers. They will test varying doses of the Mnull vaccine in animals using a nebulizer approved for use in human infants. When the optimal dose is established, they will vaccinate animals, and then challenge them with RSV to determine the degree of protection. The grant is awarded to Heartland Vaccines LLC, a small business that they started, which is based in Stillwater.