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Nobel Prize Winner to Test Cancer-Causing Bug in Drinkable Flu Vaccine

Barry J. Marshall, the Australian scientist who won a Nobel Prize for identifying a cancer-causing stomach bacterium, plans to start a trial next year using the bug in a drinkable flu vaccine.

Marshall, the founder, scientific director and majority owner of closely held Ondek Ltd., plans to test the vaccine in at least 30 people in the U.S., and expects results from the trial by mid-2013, he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Ondek, based in Perth, Australia, aims to harness the ability of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori to colonize the stomach. The bug’s harmful genes will be removed and those from influenza and other viruses will be inserted to stimulate an immune response. If successful, the vaccine would be sold as a freeze-dried powder or a capsule, sidestepping the inconvenience and side effects of injections, Marshall said.

“We’re focusing on flu because we think that would be attractive to investors,” Marshall said. “That’s the big market.”

A preliminary study, in which healthy volunteers received disarmed strains of the bacterium in a beef broth, showed some strains were capable of safely colonizing the gut, proving the concept is feasible, Marshall said. The strains weren’t carrying any viral genes. He presented the results at a conference in Singapore on June 23.

The flu-vaccine market reached about $3.7 billion last year, Ondek said on its website. The company, which has about 20 investors, has raised more than A$3 million ($3.1 million) of a targeted A$5 million for the next trial and is seeking more funding, Marshall said.

“In Australia people are more comfortable with mining investments and will put massive amounts of money into holes in the ground,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of mature investors yet who’ve had a good experience in biotechnology, and can see that it’s a similar type of risk-benefit ratio.”

Marshall won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with J. Robin Warren for their discovery of H. Pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic-ulcer disease.

To contact the reporter on this story: Simeon Bennett in Singapore at sbennett9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jason Gale at j.gale@bloomberg.net

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