Astronauts on board Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-131) activated an experiment this morning as part of the ninth scientific payload for Astrogenetix, an Austin, Texas-based commercial biotech company. Astrogenetix is conducting the International Space Station National Laboratory Pathfinder Vaccine (NLP-V) missions to take advantage of the unique conditions of microgravity to uncover changes in bacteria that can be targeted to create new vaccines and therapeutics.
“Through this series of experiments, we are demonstrating that the International Space Station can be utilized as a platform for novel drug discovery,” said John Porter, Chief Executive Officer of Astrogenetix. “We sincerely believe the use of microgravity will yield tremendous benefits for new discovery to save lives on Earth.”
Astrogenetix has identified target genes for MRSA (a form of Staph infection) virulence by growing the bacteria in the microgravity environment during previous NLP-V missions. The Company is further examining and validating these genes on STS-131, by sending up several different strains of the bacteria, which were genetically altered to remove target genes that are believed to be associated with virulence of this organism.
MRSA is a type of bacteria that is not responsive to commonly used antibiotics and typically causes skin infections, but can also cause other infections – including pneumonia. In the past decade, infection and mortality due to this organism has increased drastically, exceeding the death rate for HIV. In the United States, MRSA is responsible for 100,000 cases of severe infections and more than 19,000 deaths annually.
“We’ve collected extraordinary data over the last several missions to the International Space Station, and we expect more critical data to come back with the Shuttle’s return,” added Dr. Jeanne Becker, Chief Science Officer for Astrogenetix. “We’re getting much closer to identifying a potential target for vaccine development by knocking out specific genes associated with virulence.”
Initial NLP-V studies conducted by Astrogenetix focused on developing a potential vaccine for Salmonella bacteria. Currently there is no vaccine for Salmonella, which represents a significant problem for food contamination in the U.S. and for American soldiers in foreign countries, in addition to causing illness and death in developing nations. Work conducted during the first three NLP-V spaceflight payloads resulted in the successful identification of key genes in Salmonella that could be manipulated to create a potential vaccine for this organism. The Company is developing an investigational new drug submission package for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for subsequent initiation of trials for the Salmonella vaccine.
Date: April 6, 2010