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Researchers to develop computational diagnostic methods for viral pathogens


BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 7, 2006 – The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech and Orion Integrated Biosciences Inc. (OIB) today announced that they have signed an agreement to facilitate the development of new diagnostic methods for key viral pathogens. Under the terms of the agreement, information on encephalic and hemorrhagic viruses from VBI’s PathPort project will be integrated into Orion’s Integrated Computational Analysis System (ICAS), a high-performance, portable computational tool that allows users to store, retrieve, and exchange molecular and diagnostic data on viral pathogens.

Encephalic and hemorrhagic viruses are some of the most contagious and lethal viruses known worldwide. They include the deadly Ebola and Marburg viruses, as well as mosquito-borne viruses that cause infectious diseases like Dengue and Yellow Fever. Due to their short replication times, high mutation rates and often lethal effects, encephalic and hemorrhagic viruses are likely candidates for use as biological weapons.

Willy Valdivia-Granda, chief executive officer of Orion Integrated Biosciences, said: “We have been very impressed by the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute’s Pathogen Information Markup Language which enables the seamless integration of extensive information on pathogens into Orion’s analysis and visualization tools. By exploiting the natural fit of information in PathPort with Orion’s ICAS, we are well placed to develop new, rapid, and reliable diagnostic tools for emerging and re-emerging viral pathogens.”

Dr. Oswald Crasta, director of bioinformatics for VBI’s Cyberinfrastructure Group, noted: “The lack of diagnostic tools that can integrate and analyze molecular surveillance data is a major gap in disease prevention and the development of countermeasure responses. The combination of PathPort’s ability to make information on pathogens readily available in an easy-to-use format with the powerful diagnostic capabilities of Orion’s computational technologies should help to link specific diagnostic features of viruses to disease outbreaks as well as geographical distribution. This will be a major step forward in our ability to deal with the intentional or non-intentional release of potentially fatal pathogens.”

About Orion Integrated Biosciences Inc.

Orion Integrated Biosciences Inc. was founded in 2003 to focus on genomic-based drug discovery and near real-time detection of viral diseases. The company has two main missions: 1) to address the increasing demand for devices capable of recognizing lethal pathogens in medical and military settings and 2) to develop new antiviral agents. The company’s strategy integrates revolutionary advances in nanotechnology, high performance computing, and post-genomic technologies. This multidisciplinary approach has also allowed the development of near real-time, accurate, and field deployable detection devices not only capable of recognizing known viruses, but also of detecting new species. Orion's drug pipeline includes internal discovery programs and collaborations with pharmaceutical companies and U.S. national laboratories. Research and development is performed by computational biologists, virologists, and chemists who are involved in the identification and development of new therapeutic products against emerging and re-emerging biological threats.

About PathPort

PathPort, which is short for pathogen portal, combines information from around the world about pathogens with powerful computer analysis and visualization tools to aid in the rapid detection, identification, and forensic attribution of high-priority pathogens. The pathogens included in PathPort cause infectious diseases or have the potential to be used as biological weapons. To provide this platform, VBI performs the following: acquisition, vetting, consolidation, and annotation of genomic data; the creation of data models, the graphical user interface, bioinformatics tools for analysis, and the portal itself; development of methods to validate candidate target sequences; and research into host responses to infection. The software infrastructure supporting the PathPort project is built around ToolBus, a client-side software that allows the seamless integration of different computers. ToolBus allows researchers to easily access web-services from all over the world as well as programs and files on their desktop computer. The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech has a research platform centered on understanding the “disease triangle” of host-pathogen-environment interactions.