Inspired by the recent breeding of a hypoallergenic cat, I did some research on “CatVax”. Here is the picture that Google helped me to put together:
CatVax (aka “Allervax Cat”) was developed by Massachusetts-based Immulogic as a “peptide immunotherapy”—an alternative to “whole-allergen immunotherapy”, a five-year sequence of injections known for side effects and uncertain results.
Immulogic was founded in 1987 by Malcom Gefter. In 1991, Immulogic scientists published Amino acid sequence of Fel dI, the major allergen of the domestic cat. The same year, they entered into an agreement with Marion Merrell Dow to commercialize the newly-named Allervax line, and held their IPO. The company’s 1991 projections included revenue from sales of Allervax Cat beginning in 1995.
From 1992-1994, phase I and II trials for Allervax Cat were conducted by Peter Creticos and others. Shares of Immulogic rose sharply in December 1993, when Allervax Cat was mentioned on television.
In 1995, just as Allervax Cat was entering Phase III trials, Merck announced its intentions to sell its stake of Immulogic, sending the stock down. A month later, Marion Merrell Dow was purchased by Hoechst Marion Roussel; a subsequent reorganization resulted in the company cancelling its role in the commercialization of Allervax and selling out of its position in Immulogic.
Meetings with the FDA in December 1996 yielded a timeframe including product trials into 1997. The longer-than-previsioned time-to-market compounded the withdrawal of investors and led, in June 1997, to layoffs. The company reprioritized the Allervax Ragweed product at the expense of Allervax Cat. But subsequent meetings with the FDA resulted in even longer delays for the trials for the ragweed product. In November 1997, Immulogic announced the cancellation of the Allervax program in light of “the significant additional costs necessary to commercialize the products”.
In 1998, Peter Creticos published “Peptide Downregulation of the Immune Response”, presumably based in part on his work on Allervax. One of the editors of this paper was Barry Kay; his name will appear again in connection with this approach.
Immulogic licensed the intellectual property for Allervax to Heska, and in 1999, Immulogic announced that it would be dissolved.
In July 2000, Heska licensed Allervax-related technologies to Circassia, a spin-out of Imperial College of London founded by Barry Kay and Mark Larché. Circassia called its produect in development “Cat-PAD” (Peptide Allergen Desensitisation). Kay had edited Peter Creticos’ 1998 paper and had been working since that time with Larché on the role of peptides in allergic and asthmatic reactions. In 2002, their progress was published in “The Potential of Peptide Immunotherapy in Allergy and Asthma”. Circassia was acquired by PowderJect, and Kay and Larché became consultants to that company.
In 2003, PowderJect was acquired by Chiron, and converted at least in part into a new company called PowderMed. According to a paper published by Kay and Larché in 2005, work on the commercialization of a cat allergy vaccine may have once again stalled: “Powderject Pharmaceuticals was, until its acquisition by Chiron, developing peptide vaccines, based on those described herein, for commercial purposes.” The paper details progress in research, however, and has been summarized in the popular press. 6 years ago