Broad Patent Covering New Vaccine Technology Issued to Wake Forest University, Licensed to Houston-based MithraGen, Inc. for Development

February 17, 2003

The U.S. Patent Office has issued a broad patent to Wake Forest University covering a new vaccine technology that may contribute directly to development of vaccines against various types of cancer, chronic viral infections and even autoimmune diseases.

The technology enables development of vaccines that are capable of stimulating the two different pathways of the immune system, which is the body''s front line of defense against disease.

The patent is based on work by Si-Yi Chen, M.D., Ph.D., when he was an assistant professor of cancer biology at Wake Forest. Chen is now an associate professor in Baylor College of Medicine''s Department of Molecular and Human Genetics and in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy.

“One of the difficulties the human immune system has in controlling cancer cells is that the immune system has difficulty recognizing them as foreign,” said Chen. “This is also true of viruses such as hepatitis and HIV, which have learned to evade the surveillance of the immune system.

"This patent covers a unique way to help the immune system identify cancer cells and evasive viruses as disease causing agents," Chen said. "Preclinical studies in animals completed in my laboratory targeting both cancer cells and viruses, such as hepatitis B and human papilloma virus, confirm that the technology works to stimulate a broad, potent immune response against these pathogens.” Wake Forest has exclusively licensed the patent to MithraGen, Inc., a Houston, Texas based biotech company launched by Wake Forest and Baylor College of Medicine in 2000 to commercialize the patented technology. "Rarely are we issued a patent with this type of breadth and scope," said Spencer Lemons, director of Technology Asset Management at Wake Forest. "We are really pleased at what a patent like this one says about the inventiveness of our faculty and the cutting-edge nature of our research."

David Anderson, president and CEO of MithraGen, said, "The studies completed by Dr. Chen, and confirmed by our scientists, have demonstrated that this technology significantly improves the body''s ability to mount a strong immune response against cancers and viruses.”

"We have found that vaccines incorporating the technology can successfully inhibit tumor growth," Anderson said. "This technology also has the potential to significantly improve the body''s ability to overcome chronic infections. We are now moving toward testing our initial cancer vaccine in humans."

According to Chen, vaccines based on the technology that he and his colleagues tested in animals not only strongly inhibit tumor growth, but more importantly also profoundly increase survival.

“I am looking forward to seeing my research discoveries translated into a new vaccine for people suffering from cancer,” said Chen.

In addition to its potential in cancer and infectious diseases, Chen also foresees the possibility of using the technology in treating autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis.


Contact: Robert Conn (, Karen Richardson ( or Barbara Hahn ( at (336) 716-4587.

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