Shelton firm on the frontlines of Ebola research

A bioscience firm with a large Shelton lab facility is working to create a treatment for Ebola.

Anil R. Diwan, president and chairman of NanoViricides Inc., said his company is focusing on a “highly targeted” approach that would prevent the Ebola virus from multiplying within a person or re-infecting a person.

“We are attacking the virus directly,” he said.

Diwan said nanoviricides are particularly effective because they “bind” only to infected cells and likely will work despite any mutations or other changes in the virus.

Nanoviricides are antiviral agents that get virus cells to attach to them so they can surround and trap the virus cells.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal recently toured the NanoViricides complex on Controls Drive in Shelton to learn more about the company’s research.

“I’m very impressed by the potential of cutting-edge technology that can save lives,” Blumenthal said.

Expediting the process

Blumenthal’s office recently assisted NanoViricides by getting the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to look at the company’s research.

“Your staff expedited the process,” said Meeta R. Vyas, NanoViricides chief financial officer. “It was stuck in the bureaucracy.”

After the tour, Blumenthal stressed he isn’t a scientist and doesn’t know what research will be successful, but said NanoViricides’ work “deserves to be evaluated and considered by the Pentagon” due to the urgent need to combat Ebola.

He said Ebola “could be a national security issue,” and finding a cure for the disease has proved elusive so far.

To date, Ebola has infected 19,000 people, mostly in three West African countries. More than two-thirds of people who get Ebola usually die, according to NanoViricides material.

The Army research agency funds research and trials by companies but to date has not provided any money to NanoViricides.

The company hopes to get funding from the Army to begin drug trials for its possible Ebola treatment. “If successful, we’ll apply for a Department of Defense grant,” Vyas said.

Unique facility

This summer, NanoViricides began moving into the 18,000-square-foot facility in Shelton, off Long Hill Cross Road. The firm is based in West Haven.

The Shelton building includes research and production labs that meet high purity standards, with various sets of locked doors. “Everything is kept very clean,” Diwan said.

It is the only nanomedicine clinical product manufacturing facility in Connecticut, said Diwan, who was born in India and is a bioscience researcher with a doctoral degree, an inventor, a patent-holder and an entrepreneur.

In addition to Ebola, NanoViricides is pursuing treatments for influenza, HIV, oral and genital herpes, dengue fever, and pink eye (conjunctivitis).

Potential for 'thousands' of employees

The company now has about 25 employees in Shelton, but plans to triple the workforce in the next year or two. Most of these employees would be highly educated scientists.

If the company receives approval for any of its products, it could quickly employ “thousands of people” and the Shelton facility might have up to 500 employees, Diwan said.

The Shelton facility is large enough that it could be used for larger-scale manufacturing. “Quantity production needed to curb the current [Ebola] outbreak can be performed readily in our new facility,” according to NanoViricides material.

A bioscience hub

Vyas envisions Connecticut becoming a major bioscience hub of nanomedicine, with much bioscience activity already taking place at Yale and in New Haven as well as through the University of Connecticut.

“We really think this will be something big for the state,” she said.

NanoViricides is a publicly traded company that’s listed on the New York Stock Exchange. “It’s established,” Blumenthal said.