Sorrento Therapeutics, Inc. (OTC Bulletin Board: SRNE) today announced that it has received an Advanced Technology Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The peer-reviewed grant was awarded to support the Company's program to generate and develop novel antibody therapeutics and vaccines to combat Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus or "Staph") infections, including methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), by disrupting quorum sensing, a bacterial communication process essential to virulence. The Phase I grant is for $300,000 annually for two years, with the possibility of Phase II funding of $1 million per year for up to 3 years.
"It is clear that the NIH is highly motivated to fund novel approaches to tackling the serious healthcare burden of MRSA. We believe our program to develop potential vaccines and antibody therapeutics against MRSA holds great clinical promise because of the high morbidity and mortality caused by this pathogen and the limited treatment options available today," said Antonius Schuh, Ph.D., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sorrento Therapeutics.
Sorrento Therapeutics' MRSA program targets specific auto-inducing peptides (AIPs) central to the quorum sensing system of S. aureus, which induces bacterial virulence. Masking these AIPs leads to a disruption of bacterial communication ("quorum quenching") and suppresses virulence. In recommending the grant application for funding, expert panel reviewers noted that targeting quorum sensing and the virulence factors of S. aureus represented a paradigm shift, which could result in fewer side effects than conventional drug therapies. They also cited the high quality of the investigational team and the impressive preliminary data supporting the program to date. In January, the Company obtained an exclusive license to The Scripps Research Institute's quorum quenching technology, which lays the scientific foundation for this program.
"We believe that the use of quorum sensing signal molecules as targets for the development of vaccines and antibody therapeutics using our proprietary technology platform is a novel and promising approach to combat a serious public health issue. We look forward to working with our colleagues at The Scripps Research Institute and Montana State University in developing novel antibody therapeutics and vaccines against MRSA," said Charlie Rodi, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Development at Sorrento Therapeutics and the Principal Investigator on the grant.
For 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 94,000 serious invasive MRSA infections occurred in the U.S. and more than 19,000 Americans died from these infections - more than from HIV/AIDS. A recent (2009) study from Duke University Medical Center looking at MRSA infections associated with surgery found a 35-fold increased risk of hospital readmission, a 7-fold increased risk of death, and more than $60,000 of additional charges per patient compared to uninfected controls. IMS Health reported that U.S. sales of antibiotics to treat MRSA exceeded $1 billion in 2007. Although a report from the Government Accounting Office indicates that no federal agency adequately monitors antibiotic resistance or evaluates its social and financial costs, various estimates place the annual cost to the healthcare system as high as $5 billion.