The quest for affordable vaccines

If a professor from the chemistry department had not encouraged Dr. David Peyton to compete for part of a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant, his research may have never developed into a product that may soon help to improve malaria treatments.

Peyton and Dr. Shalini Prasad received the grant through Portland State’s Lab2Market program, a program which aims to help use and commercialize new technologies for real world applications.

“It will ultimately get [the projects] from the lab to the market,” Peyton said, “Which is our ultimate goal and the ultimate goal of the program.”

Peyton is developing an anti-malaria vaccine designed to be both effective and affordable. The project, he said, could help get the anti-malaria drugs that he is developing to parts of the world in dire need. At any given time, roughly half the world’s population is at risk to contract malaria, and nearly half a billion people will have an infection.

“We are trying to come up with an alternate drug that is cheap for those who need it,” said Peyton, adding that most current drugs are extremely expensive, so much so that the majority of infected people cannot afford them. “We need simple and practical answers.”

Prasad’s project uses micro technology to detect particles in the atmosphere. Prasad’s bio-chemical sensors are three orders more sensitive than current nanoparticle sensor technology, according to a Feb. 2 press release.

Peyton and Prasad said they believed the grant to be a great opportunity for their projects.

“First, it brings visibility to this type of research,” Prasad said. “Second, it brings credibility.”

Prasad said that her work has had some success in recent months and hopes to finish research on the project in three years. Peyton hopes to come out with a product within a year.

Lab2Market mentors and tutors the selected professors, according to Melissa Appleyard, professor in the school of Business Administration and program board member.

“Our hope is that by the end of the year, they will reach a level that helps the technology go to market,” she said.

Peyton and Prasad were not the only professors selected. The National Science Foundation funds Lab2Market for a total of six projects to be selected per year, four of which are supposed to come from the four main public institutions, which includes OHSU and two from other universities.

Upon selection, people involved with the six projects meet with what the program calls expert mentors, who are private sector individuals who give advice on how to get the product into the market.

“The primary purpose is to foster economic growth,” Appleyard said.

She said that this year, no official entry was received from OHSU and that 10 total entries were received, from schools like University of Portland, among other private and public institutions. University of Oregon, Oregon State and University of Portland were the other schools to be accepted into the program.

Lab2Market’s grant started in the summer of 2004 and is regulated to extend to the end of the summer of 2007. They were approved for a total of 12 projects selections, and Appleyard expects they will pick the second group of six during the next academic year.

Appleyard, Benight, PSU physics professor Erik Bodegom and Candice Clement of Northwest Technology Ventures made up the board that selected the projects and got the funding for Lab2Market from the National Sciences Foundation. Appleyard said that the group spearheaded this approach, and believes other universities have tried to get something similar started.

“We were just fortunate enough to be the first ones to secure it,” she said.