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Shingles Vaccine Antigen

Shingles is caused by the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV), the same virus responsible for chicken pox. Shingles, also sometimes referred to as “herpes zoster”, is a painful and debilitating skin rash with inflammation, itching and chronic pain.  Shingles can be most problematic for the elderly and patients with impaired immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control state that one in three people in the U.S. will contract shingles at some point in their lifetime. Current treatments are palliative to help with pain, itching and inflammation until a Shingles episode subsides. In 2006, Merck launched the first vaccine, Zostavax®, against VZV to prevent shingles. Zostavax® is a live-attenuated virus vaccine and can become reactivated after vaccination and is reported to have limited efficacy for certain at risk patient populations. Zostaxax® is not recommended for patients who are older, immunocompromised, with AIDS, cancer, or have had organ transplants; the patients most at risk of getting shingles.

Dr. Abbas Vafai, while at the University of Colorado and University of Illinois, discovered a glycoprotein (gE protein) found on the surface of the Varicella Zoster Virus that could be used as a general vaccine antigen to avoid using the actual virus. After further development and filing patents to protect the gE antigen, RCT exclusively licensed the technology to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in 2000.  Utilizing the gE antigen, GSK developed a new type of VZV vaccine which promises to be safer and more effective in preventing Shingles episodes across a broad patient population, including older patients and those who are immunocompromised. GSK has performed numerous worldwide clinical trials in various at risk patient populations with promising Phase III results in preventing shingles. GSK filed for regulatory approval of the shingles vaccine, to be marketed as Shingrix™, with the FDA on October 24, 2016.


Abbas Vafai, who is now Senior Scientific Advisor at Viro Research, LLC,  initiated and completed this invention at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford.  Dr. Vafai has also held positions with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

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