UAB start-up SunFire Biotechnologies LLC was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Defense to continue advancing an assay to support the development of Shigella vaccines.

The Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant is for approximately $1 million over two years, and will assist SunFire researchers in qualifying and validating the assay so that SunFire can function as a contract research organization for other companies that are developing Shigella vaccines.

Moon Nahm, M.D.Moon Nahm, M.D.

SunFire scientists used the $230,000 Phase I SBIR grant to create the assay. 
Shigella is a gastrointestinal infection, causing diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Shigella outbreaks occur primarily in developing countries, and the Department of Defense is funding this research because members of the military often contract such infections while deployed abroad.

SunFire co-founder Moon Nahm, M.D., said Shigella vaccines that result from the assay will also benefit indigenous populations suffering from such infections.

“Shigella is a major cause of severe diarrheal infections in developing countries. A Shigella vaccine would not only benefit the local population but would also provide protection for military personnel deployed to these areas,” Nahm said. “The development of a reliable, high-throughput functional test for antibodies against Shigella will facilitate vaccine development.”

SunFire Chief Operating Officer Deborah Bidanset, Ph.D., said SunFire is also developing ready-to-go kits so that vaccine pioneers can make use of the assay wherever they are. 

SunFire Biotechnologies was founded in 2019 with the help of the UAB Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The company is located at the Innovation Depot in Birmingham. The company licensed UAB technologies related to the development of pneumococcal vaccines. Dr. Nahm, who was an endowed professor of lung health in the UAB Department of Medicine until his retirement in November 2021, invented and refined these technologies during his tenure as a UAB professor.

-- By Amy Jones | UAB Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship