Nearly 80% of the world’s population is infected with herpes simplex virus, according to the World Health Organization.
Like all herpesviruses, HSV enters the nervous system and remains there for a lifetime, sometimes causing contagious symptoms and, in worst cases, damaging the brain. Currently, there is no HSV vaccine on the market.
Nebraska’s Gary Pickard has co-founded the startup company Thyreos to develop a novel vaccine platform that protects against a range of herpesviruses in animals and people.
The company includes Northwestern University’s Gregory Smith and Tufts University’s Ekaterina Heldwein, as well as CEO Eric Zeece. The scientific team are experts in virology and neuroscience.
“Our collaboration emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary basic research,” said Pickard, a neuroscientist. “We weren’t trying to make a vaccine. But by combining these different areas of expertise, we found something completely new and extraordinary.”
Thyreos’ vaccines are distinctive because they generate a strong immune response without entering the nervous system. According to the team’s research, this approach significantly reduces the risk of viral reactivation and transmission.
The team is currently testing its vaccine in cattle, which are routinely infected with a herpesvirus that causes respiratory disease. It can also cause secondary bacterial infections, aborted calves, decreased fertility and decreased milk production, resulting in billion-dollar losses of annual revenue.
“As a startup company, our initial focus in the beef industry is part of a larger goal,” Pickard said. “Ultimately, we want to produce a range of vaccines that are more effective and safe so that we can improve the lives of animals and people.”
The company has received funding from Invest Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and local investors. NUtech’s Jeewan Jyot has worked with Northwestern University to patent and license the university-developed technology for the startup.
“It’s exciting to see new partnerships in research and economic development come together to support a promising new vaccine technology,” Jyot said. “That is what technology transfer is all about: helping university innovation reach the marketplace, with real-world impact.”