Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a common virus that infects one in every two people in many developed countries. Most CMV infections are “silent,” meaning most people who are infected with CMV exhibit no signs or symptoms. However, CMV can cause serious disease in newborns when a mother is infected during pregnancy – this is known as congenital CMV infection.
The public health impact of congenital CMV infection is substantial and underappreciated. In the U.S. alone, approximately 5,000 infants will develop permanent problems due to CMV, some of them severe, including deafness, blindness, and intellectual disability. Congenital CMV causes more disability than Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome, but awareness of the condition remains low – a 2012 study examining child to mother transmission of CMV revealed that only 7% of men and 13% of U.S. women surveyed had heard of congenital CMV.
CMV is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, typically saliva or urine. Young children, even those that appear healthy, may shed CMV at high rates. By practicing good hygiene, pregnant women and women considering pregnancy can lower their CMV transmission risk. Educating expecting mothers and their healthcare providers is one of the few prevention strategies now available and, following the diligent efforts of non-profit organizations, legislation supporting CMV education is now being considered in several U.S. states, including Texas, Illinois, and Tennessee.
Laws can be enacted that will help raise awareness of the condition, however we believe that developing an effective CMV vaccine has the best chance of reducing the spread and impact of the disease. Several prominent institutions, including The Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences, have designated CMV as a “highest priority” category for vaccine development, citing the years of life and disability that could be saved as well as the substantial economic impact, estimated to be between $1 billion and $2 billion annually in the U.S.
In response to this significant unmet medical need, we are developing a CMV vaccine candidate that utilizes our enveloped (“e”) Virus-Like Particle (“VLP”) vaccine platform technology. eVLPs are capable of generating a strong immune response because of their similarity to viruses found in nature. In addition to CMV, we believe our eVLP Platform is suitable for a wide array of vaccine candidates including CMV, HCV, RSV, and West Nile.